Will the real Cinnamon please stand up... (off-topic)

Mark McDonough antennaria@charter.net
Tue, 01 Dec 2009 05:02:07 PST
Still on the cinnamon trail, I'm glad that someone (Phil Andrews) mentioned the important fact that there is true cinnamon, and "substitute" cinnamon.  Allow me to elaborate.

True cinnamon is Cinnamomum verum (syn. C. zeylandicum) from Sri Lanka.  There are 250-300 species of Cinnamomum, members of the Lauraceae family.  True cinnamon is rare in the United States.  When available from a few specialty spice purveyors, it'll be labeled as Ceylon Cinnamon.  Most cinnamon sold in the United States is not true cinnamon at all, but is in fact one (or more) of the so-called "Cassia style" cinnamon substitutes.  Most cinnamon sold in the United States is simply labeled as "cinnamon", so there's no way of knowing what type of cinnamon it is, although it is common belief that most cinnamon in the US is the drastically less expensive "Cassia" type even if not identified as such.  Undifferentiated cinnamon can also be a blend of cheaper cinnamon substitute species, and may also contain "filler" ingredients. 

So what is "Cassia" cinnamon?  The name "Cassia" is applied to several species of Cinnamomum, such as C. aromaticum, C. cassia, C. loureiro, C. burmanniii.  There are other monikers sometimes applied to other Cinnamomum species such as Saigon cinnamon, Vietnamese Cassia cinnamon, Chinese cinnamon.  The english common name of "Cassia" used for various Cinnamomum species is unfortunate, as it invites confusion with the unrelated genus Cassia, a large leguminous genus of ~250 species in the Fabaceae family (many Cassia species have been moved to the related leguminous genus Senna).

I became interested in cinnamon after reading about studies done regarding its purported special properties. Some may consider the various claims about cinnamon attributes as urban legends, mythology, or marketing hype... that's for you to decide.  However the problem is, when reading about a university study on the possibly health benefit of ingesting cinnamon, what cinnamon are they talking about?  The ambiguity nearly negates any findings, unless the actual species used is identified.  Here again, most often the term cinnamon is typically applied generically.

Moving on, what about Ceylon and other cinnamons, you can judge for yourself.  I recommend buying a jar of Ceylon cinnamon (true cinnamon) from Penzeys Spices.  

I bought a 1.8 oz jar, as a "benchmark" to know what true cinnamon smells and tastes like.  Ceylon cinnamon is light brown in color, and has a lighter, more subtle aroma, and an "earthier" taste.

Then for contrast try a jar of Penzeys Vietnamese Extra Fancy Cinnamon.  If you're buying cinnamon for aroma and taste alone (and not for dusting bulbs), this is the one to get... it's amazing!  This is by far the richest, strongest, incredibly fragrant fruity sweet cinnamon ever.  The color of this "cinnamon" is more of a reddish brown color. Add it to tea for a spice sensation.


So, what this all comes down to, is the correlation to our fundamental diligence as purveyors of plants and taxonomy, that we use latin botanical names to be unambiguous.  When broad stroke common names are used, terms such as "cinnamon" or "cassia style", the understanding is ambiguous and open to interpretation.

No need to respond to this posting... haha.

Mark McDonough
Massachusetts, near the New Hampshire border, USDA Zone 5

---- pbs-request@lists.ibiblio.org wrote: 
> From: "P. C. Andrews" <pcamusa@hotmail.com> 
> Subject: Re: [pbs] fungicides off topic 

> There is true cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) and there is cassia (Cinnamomum 
> aromaticum).  The prices can vary considerably, depending on which you are 
> using and where it was produced (and whether you are buying in bulk). 
> Regards. 
> Phil 

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