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Behind the Seasoning: Cinnamon

Horchata with cinnamon sticks and sliced almonds

When building a spice collection, cinnamon is a must-have. The warming spice is essential in so many recipes, especially when it comes to baked goods, and is used in cuisines throughout the world. Already know what you're looking for? Shop Cinnamon now!

Cinnamon is something we take seriously here at Savory Spice and it is always one of our best-selling spices. But how much do you know about the cinnamon in your kitchen? There’s much more to it than you might think!

There are actually several different varieties of the bold spice, each with signature flavors that make them stand out. Luckily, we’ve got some expertise on the ins and outs of this complex spice. Read on to see all the details about one of the most popular spices in our store. 

What is cinnamon and where does it come from?

Cinnamon has had a place in history for thousands of years. The spice dates back at least to ancient Egyptian and Asian civilizations. Throughout history, this potent spice has been used for medicinal purposes, funeral rites, food preservation, and eventually found its way into culinary use. 

Cinnamon is also part of the history of the spice wars and European colonization in Asia. It specifically became a source of tension between the Dutch and the Portuguese during the 16th and 18th centuries, causing them to fight brutally for control of Sri Lanka - primarily for the spice. Today, cinnamon is grown throughout the tropics, including in South America, southeast Asia, and the Caribbean.

But did you know that cinnamon comes from a tree? The spice is actually the bark of cinnamon trees. After about 2 to 3 years of growth, the bark gets carefully removed from the outer layer of the tree. Then, the inner layer gets shaved, so it can dry out, which takes about a week. During that time, the bark curls up into what we know as cinnamon sticks. 

There are two major players in the cinnamon game: Cinnamomum verum tree and the Cinnamomum cassia tree. They have significant differences in flavor, but both supply their own comforting, earthy sweetness.

Types of Cinnamon & Their Differences

Different types of cinnamon come from varieties of trees of the genus Cinnamomum. While all types of cinnamon share some of the same flavors and qualities, they all have defining characteristics.

  • Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) also known as “true cinnamon” or “real cinnamon,” comes from the inner layer of bark. This species is native to Sri Lanka which was formerly known as Ceylon, giving this cinnamon its common name. Ceylon cinnamon is popular in Mexico and Great Britain but, until recently, has been less popular in the United States.
  • Indonesian Cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmanni) also known as korintje, is probably what you think of when it comes to cinnamon. It has long been the most popular variety of cinnamon throughout the United States. It has that classic, familiar cinnamon taste that is the more mild of the bunch. 
  • Saigon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) is sometimes called Vietnamese cinnamon. The strongest variety of cinnamon, it’s prized for its bold flavor. While it has a similar growing and harvesting process to Ceylon cinnamon, cassia tends to have a spicier and more intense flavor. 

Which type of cinnamon is best?

Fresh is best. If you open a tin of cinnamon from the back of your cupboard and it doesn't have a smell, it is not going to have any flavor either. As far as which variety or flavor is best, it's really all about use and personal preference.

  • Not much of a baker? Maybe you use cinnamon in savory dishes. Try Ceylon.
  • And if you're a traditionalist and just want that familiar cinnamon flavor? You'll want Indonesian Cinnamon.
  • Are you a fan of the big, bold flavor of red hots? Try Saigon Cinnamon.

Indonesian cinnamon sticks and Cassia cinnamon sticks

What does cinnamon taste like?

Even a drop of cinnamon on the tongue packs a punch. It is warm, slightly spicy, and sometimes has floral and citrus notes. The bold flavor of cinnamon all comes from an aromatic compound oil called cinnamaldehyde. The compound is often referred to as having a flavor similar to Red Hots and is what gives cinnamon that spicy flavor. The more cinnamaldehyde in the variety of cinnamon, the spicier it will be. 

  • Ceylon Cinnamon Tasting Notes: This cinnamon provides bright citrus, floral, and fruity flavors. It tends to be more complex and slightly bitter in comparison with the other cinnamon varieties. 
  • Indonesian Cinnamon Tasting Notes: In aroma, this is the most iconic scent of cinnamon. Smell it straight out of the bottle to trigger memories of the holiday season and scented candles. It may be the least complexly flavored cinnamon in the arsenal, but sometimes the traditional, familiar flavor is all you need.
  • Saigon Cinnamon Tasting Notes: Its prominent flavor profile means it can stand out even when mixed with other pungent spices like allspice, cloves, and nutmeg. Saigon Cinnamon has an intense flavor that is well-balanced, warm, and fresh-tasting, but with lingering spicy flavor. 

What other spices, seasonings, and flavors pair well with cinnamon?

Cinnamon is a great spice to have in the kitchen. Perhaps most popular in baking, at least in the United States, the bold flavor is also excellent in many savory dishes. Since cinnamon is known for its place in baked goods, it’s not surprising that cinnamon pairs excellently with other warming spices like cardamom, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger

The different types of cinnamon also work well with each other. Since they have different tasting notes, they are great for layering together. A blend of Ceylon and Saigon cinnamon will truly give you the best of both worlds, mild and citrusy as well as warm and spicy. 

What is cinnamon used for?

Perhaps best known for its use in baked goods, cinnamon provides a bold, slightly sweet, and warming flavor. One of our favorite sweets cinnamon uses is Cinnamon Sugar Snickerdoodles

While cinnamon is most commonly associated with sweets and baked goods, it can also be used in savory cooking. A small dash of cinnamon can accentuate other flavors, especially when paired with fruits or vegetables in dishes like rice pilaf or Chipotle Pumpkin Soup

When it comes to cinnamon, there is really no wrong way to use the different varieties. If you like spicier cinnamon that tastes just like a cinnamon candy, go for Saigon Cinnamon. However, if you want the classic cinnamon that smells like sticky cinnamon buns, go with Indonesian Cinnamon. 

  • Ceylon Cinnamon Uses: The subtle flavor of Ceylon cinnamon pairs well with non-competing flavors, like vanilla, maple, or honey in simple baked goods. It can also play a supporting role to bolder flavors like chocolate, citrus, or in savory dishes where a hint of warmth is needed.
  • Indonesian Cinnamon Uses: Anything! This is the classic cinnamon that most Americans are used to. Add it to sweets like pies and pancakes, use it in curries or meat rubs, or sprinkle on oatmeal with fresh berries (blueberries especially!).
  • Saigon Cinnamon Uses: Because of its potency, Saigon cinnamon is excellent in curries, cinnamon-focused sweets (like cinnamon rolls!), and with strong flavors like coffee or chocolate.
Different types of ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks

What can be substituted for cinnamon?

If you find yourself reaching for your cinnamon and it is empty, chances are you have something close by that can be used. Ceylon cinnamon sticks and Indonesian cinnamon sticks can both be used to replace ground cinnamon. However, the ratio of ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks isn’t 1:1. One whole cinnamon stick is equal to about ½ to 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Cinnamon sticks can also be easily ground using a microplane or spice blender. It might not be as fine or powdery as you’re used to but it will work in a pinch!

Because cinnamon is such a familiar flavor, you might notice a difference when substituting another spice. The best substitute for cinnamon might just be Baking Spice, even in savory applications, as cinnamon is the key ingredient. In a pinch you can use Pumpkin Pie Spice but remember that it also has cloves, which have a distinctive flavor on their own.

Since cinnamon is a warming spice, other spices in the family, like allspice, will be a solid replacement. Since allspice is more potent, use a smaller quantity than the amount of cinnamon you would typically use. Remember, you can always add more.

Are there health benefits of cinnamon?

You’ll be very pleased to know that cinnamon is actually rather healthy. The essential oils that give cinnamon its flavor, which are very high in cinnamaldehyde, are where most of the health properties come from. The spice is loaded with antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory properties, and can even improve insulin sensitivity. The ground spice can also help lower blood sugar, protect against heart disease, and can be beneficial against bacterial and fungal infections. 

While cinnamon is a great resource to add to your diet, too much can be harmful. It is best to consult with a doctor before using the spice as a supplement.

Where & How to buy cinnamon?

Unlike when cinnamon was first discovered, the spice is easily available (and you aren’t likely to cause any wars seeking it out!). Most supermarkets carry it in the spice section. If you are buying regular cinnamon, chances are you are purchasing Indonesian Cinnamon, as that is still the most common variety in the United States.

Our store has you covered if you want to go outside the box when it comes to cinnamon. Put your tastebuds to the test and try out our Saigon Cinnamon and Ceylon Cinnamon. Indonesian Cinnamon is also great to keep around as a pantry staple. If you’d rather view our spices in the store, head to our store locator to see where you can purchase cinnamon in person. 

Freshness is especially important with Ceylon cinnamon because it has a very low volatile oil level (between 1-2%). These oils give spices their flavor, so the low oil content means it can lose its flavor rapidly. 

We sell: Ceylon "True" Cinnamon Sticks, Ground Ceylon "True" Cinnamon

Indonesian cinnamon (sometimes called Korintje Cinnamon) is the most common cinnamon sold in grocery stores. It’s what you probably had in your cabinet growing up, and might be what you use now.

We sell: Indonesian Cinnamon Sticks, Ground Indonesian Cinnamon

Saigon cinnamon has a high oil content (which means way more flavor) and is a great option for cinnamon lovers.

We sell: Ground Supreme Saigon Cinnamon

Cinnamon does start to release its oils once ground, so if you have an old tin (or two) hiding in the back of the pantry, make sure it passes the sniff test. Remember, no smell means no flavor!

Rolled out cookie dough with jars of cinnamon and bottles of vanilla extract

Recipes using cinnamon

There are endless recipes to choose from when it comes to showing off the different varieties of cinnamon. Like vanilla, what kind of cinnamon to use is a personal preference, so feel free to use your favorite cinnamon in any of the recipes below.

Ceylon Cinnamon: Ceylon Cinnamon keeps everything pure and simple. This blend is the closest to pure cinnamon right off the tree. It has a straightforward flavor that is mild, sweet, and with notes of citrus. 

  • Horchata: You don’t need to travel internationally to enjoy this traditional Mexican drink that features the distinctive flavors of cinnamon and vanilla.
  • Peach Chile Chicken with Black Garlic: Cinnamon switches to the savory side to make this flavorful combination of ingredients come to life.
  • Trick or Treat Pumpkin Oatmeal Cookies: With these sweet and spicy cookies on the table during Halloween, you will forget all about the candy.

Indonesian Cinnamon: If you grew up in a cinnamon-loving home, chances are you were using Indonesian cinnamon, as it has the most traditional and classic flavor. The blend of cinnamon is smooth and not overpowering with spice. 

Saigon Cinnamon: If you gravitate towards the bold flavor of cinnamon in the candy store, you’ll fall in love with Saigon Cinnamon. The high oil content gives the blend a spicy and intense cinnamon flavor. It’s a cinnamon lover’s cinnamon.

  • Whiskey Sugar Churros: Bring the carnival into your kitchen with these sweet treats that everyone will enjoy.
  • Apple & Brie Galette: Serving apples and brie is always a good idea, especially when it is seasoned with cinnamon. The mix of sweet and savory flavors is always a hit.  
  • Big Red Bison Chili: A little spicy, slightly sweet, and a whole lot of goodness makes this chill stand out from the crowd.

Big Red Bison Chili with toppings and mini cinnamon rolls.

Shop all Cinnamon or tells us your favorite way to use cinnamon in the comments below.

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