More about Cinnamon
Cinnamon is one of the most popular and important spices. While grown exclusively in tropical Asia, it is in many ways the quintessential American spice. Cinnamon or its near relative cassia is the predominant flavor in Coca-Cola, and used in everything from apple pie to cold cereals, breakfast bars and a host of other typically American baked goods and confections.
In the wild, cinnamon grows as a small evergreen tree. Harvesting methods for cinnamon vary depending on the country and the availability of labor. In Sri Lanka immature trees are cut down and harvested. The next year, about a dozen long shoots grow out of the roots. Using a knife, meter long cuts are made longitudinally, once on either side of the shoot. The bark is then removed in two strips. The outer side of one strip is laid against the inner side of the other and these strips are allowed to ferment for 24 hours. The outer woody portion of the bark is then removed from the strip and the paper thin inner portion is dried. As the strips dry, they begin to curl into rolls. Rolls from numerous shoots are then packed together and cut into the quills or sticks.
There are approximately 200 different species of cinnamon that grow wild in the tropical highlands of Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Madagascar and China. Only a few of these varieties, however, are cultivated and not all of them are "true" cinnamon. Each variety produces a spice with a rather distinct flavor profile.
The four most important species of cinnamon are the following:
Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum, verum or Cinnamomum, zeylanicum)
Ceylon cinnamon is "true" cinnamon. The word verum - means true in Latin. Indigenous to Sri Lanka and the Seychelles Islands, it has a spicy, light slightly citrus almost floral flavor with subtle hints of clove. The bark is and golden tan color. Another valuable part of the tree is the leaves, which are periodically stripped and steam distilled to produce oil cinnamon leaf. Rich in eugenol and eugenyl acetate, this oil is widely used in fragrances and has a woody, clove-like aroma. Cinnamon leaf oil is only produced in Sri Lanka. Oil distilled from the bark, known as cassia bark oil, can also be produced. This oil rich in cinnamic aldehyde smells like the ground spice.
Mentioned in the Bible, cinnamon was known to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans who used it primarily for religious purposes. Its source, however, was kept a secret by the Arab traders who supplied the quills. Some of these traders claimed that cinnamon was fished up in nets at the source of the Nile. Others claimed that giant Cinnamon birds collected the sticks to construct their nests from unknown lands where the trees grew. The Arabs would trick the birds and rob the nests of the sticks. Until the Portuguese reached Ceylon in the 16th century the true source of cinnamon was unknown.
While still preferred by consumers in some parts of Europe, Ceylon cinnamon has slowly lost its importance due to the availability of the less expensive varieties from Indonesia, Vietnam and China. If you like cinnamon and can find real Ceylon cinnamon it unique flavor is worth the extra cost.
It is easy to identify Ceylon cinnamon sticks. The bark is harvested from small immature tress and as a result, the sticks have multiple, thin layers that break apart rather easily. Unlike Indonesian and Vietnamese cinnamon bark, Ceylon sticks can be relatively easily ground in a coffee grinder.
Krorintje or Indonesian Cinnamon (Cinnamomum, burmanii)
Indonesian Cinnamon is also referred to as Cassia Vera, Korintje, Korintoji, Java, and Makassar. It is also known as Padang, Batavia and Timor cinnamon. The different names refer to the various islands and cities from which this variety is exported or areas where it is grown. This species of cinnamon is relatively prolific and the trees are now found in many parts of the tropics including Hawaii where it is considered an evasive species.
Korintje cinnamon is harvested from immature trees that are typically grown on small family owned plantations. The best cinnamon is grown on the slopes of Mount Korintje an active volcano on the island of Sumatra. Traditionally, the families that owned these plantations used the trees as a store of wealth. Many were planted and subsequently harvested to coincide with a family's needs to pay for a wedding or other important occasions.
Indonesia is the largest producer of cinnamon and the slopes of Mount Korintje and many of the other mountains in Western Sumatra are protected by the Indonesian government to support the industry.
Korintje cinnamon is the variety most often sold in groceries in the United States. It is red-brown in color and has a clean, spicy flavor. The quills range from 2-inches in length to more than 12-inches.
Korintje is sold in four grades - A, B, C and D. The grade is determined by the volatile oil content of the product. The higher the volatile oil content the greater the intensity of flavor and aroma. The A grade has a volatile oil content of minimum 3.00 percent. Grades B, C and D have lower volatile oil contents. Grocery stores typically sell B and C grades, while bakeries and other industries use C and even the cheaper D grades. Silver Cloud only offers the finest Korintje type A grade in sticks and as the ground spice.
Vietnamese or Saigon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum, loureiroi)
Indigenous to Vietnam, this species of cinnamon, which is actually more closely related to Cinnamomum, aromaticum or cassia than Cinnamomum, verum; is also known as Saigon, Vietnam, Danang, Annan and Tonkin cinnamon or cassia.
While most connoisseurs of cinnamon prefer the Ceylon cinnamon, my personal preference is the Saigon. Beginning in the early 19th century, there was shift in consumer preference in Europe and the United States from the lighter flavor of the Ceylon to the bolder flavor of the less expensive Saigon. Up until the 1960's when the Vietnam War destroyed the cinnamon industry, this was the principle variety available in the United States and much of Europe. It was the war's disruption that resulted in the cheaper and less flavorful Indonesian cinnamon gaining dominance in the marketplace.
Vietnamese cinnamon is grown on small farms. The best bark is harvested from trees that are 20 - 25 years old. This limits the production of the best cinnamon to just a thousand tons or less a year. At harvest, the farmers cut the trees down and remove the bark in two to three foot sections with a knife. The bark from the base of the trunk is generally the thickest and has the highest volatile oil content. Saigon cinnamon has a volatile oil content at least twice that of the best Korintje, type A. The cinnamon bark is then dried in the sun for a few days. As the bark dries, it curls and forms quills.
Saigon cinnamon is ideal for applications that require a more intense flavor. I typically use it for cooking and sauces and use the Korintje for baking.
Chinese Cassia or Cinnamon (Cinnamomum, aromanticum or Cinnamomum, cassia)
Chinese cassia is indigenous to Southern China and is also known as Chinese junk, Kwantung, Kwangsi, Yunnan or Honan cassia or cinnamon. Rich in cinnamic aldehyde, Chinese cassia has an intensely sweet flavor and a distinct bite. Much of the cassia harvested each year is steam distilled to produce the essential oil - cassia, which is an important ingredient in cola beverages, confections and processed meats.
Often the cinnamon sold in the United States and Canada is actually Chinese cassia. In some cases, it is labeled "Chinese cinnamon" to distinguish it from the more expensive true cinnamon (Cinnamomum, verum) or the Korintje cinnamon (Cinnamomum,burmanii). In many countries, Chinese cassia cannot be labeled as cinnamon, but must be labeled cassia.
Small trees are cut down or entire branches removed from larger trees to harvest the cassia bark. It is often sold in coarse chips though quills are produced too. Cassia quills are relatively easy to distinguish, since they are very hard and typically just one piece of bark.
Chinese cassia is ideal for cooking especially when used in recipes that have chilies and black pepper.