Cinnamon is among the most distinct of spices. When its sweet aroma wafts through the house, you know something tasty is cooking. Cinnamon is the dried inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree. Once cut and peeled, the bark curls to form the familiar spiraled sticks, or quills. While some home cooks keep cinnamon sticks on hand, ground cinnamon is most commonly found in kitchen cabinets. Cinnamon oil also is available, but it’s very potent and should be used sparingly.
There are two general types of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon, from Sri Lanka, and Cassia cinnamon, also known as Chinese cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon sticks are brittle and light brown with a mild, sweet flavor; Cassia cinnamon sticks are thicker, coarser and darker in color and have a much stronger, almost bitter flavor. Cassia cinnamon is more commonly used by spice manufacturers and is simply labeled as “cinnamon” on containers sold in the United States. Saigon cinnamon, from Vietnam, has become more readily available and is known for its intense, sweet-and-spicy heat.
In Western cultures, cinnamon is most typically used in desserts and to complement fruit dishes; however, its use in savory dishes is common in ethnic cuisines. In the East, cinnamon is added to spicy dishes, such as Indian curries, and to braised dishes in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines. Cinnamon also is used in Mexican cooking from beverages to soups, stews and other savory dishes, such as mole poblano. Cinnamon often is found in spice blends, including some curry powders, garam masala and chai masala (spiced tea). Like most spices, adding cinnamon to hot oil, butter or water can maximize its flavor. Use sparingly — a little goes a long way.
Nutrition Profile of Cinnamon
One teaspoon of ground cinnamon contains just 6 calories and 1.4 grams of fiber. You’ll also find manganese and calcium in its nutrient mix. The essential oil cinnamaldehyde has been shown to have antibacterial properties. Cassia cinnamon also contains coumarin, the parent compound of warfarin, so ingesting large amounts could lead to serious adverse effects, including liver damage. Although claims exist, there is no high-quality research to support health benefits of cinnamon.
Cinnamon in Foodservice
Ground cinnamon can be purchased in containers that range from 15 ounces to 25 pounds, while cinnamon sticks are usually packaged in 8- to 9-ounce containers. Store cinnamon in a tightly closed container and keep in a cool, dry and dark location to prevent caking or clumping. Long-term exposure to heat volatilizes and dissipates cinnamon’s aromatic essential oils, diminishing its flavor. Shelf life for ground cinnamon is approximately two to three years, while sticks maintain their flavor and strength for three to four years.