Cinnamon and Cassia

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Black pepper, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cloves. Wilmsen, 1821.
Cinnamon Quills. Photo: Axel Steenberg

Cinnamon or True Cinnamon and Cassia Cinnamon are different spices, but unfortunately they are commercially interchangeable. So while confusing, we have kept them together here.

Cassia tends to be used in baking, continental European cuisine and South-East Asian cookery. Cinnamon is traditionally used in Indian and British cooking, although might be substituted for cassia in baked goods.

You can tell the difference quite quickly – true cinnamon is a light tan and has a subtle woody aroma like box or sandalwood, with hints of cinnamon and citrus. On the other hand, cassia cinnamon is a darker red-tan colour and has a more direct, blunter petrochemical aroma that is strongly “cinnamony”. Cassia is reminiscent of baked goods, especially Danish pastries and German Christmas biscuits (Spekulatius or Zimtsterne).

Cinnamon quills are fine, interlining rolls of soft bark. In contrast, cassia is thicker and is one curl, so overall looks coarser. Both are used for flavouring mulled wine, hot chocolate or coffee.

The powders are multipurpose. Both are used in cakes, pastries and baking spice mixes - mixed spice, lebkuchen mix and spekuloos mix. Cinnamon powder is used in Indian and Sri Lankan dishes, savoury as well as sweet. Cassia powder is used across South East Asia, from Indonesia through to Thailand.

As a twist: try adding a few cinnamon quills to casseroles for a wonderful woody aroma, especially lamb.

Cinnamon and Coumarin

There are some health issues with the level of coumarin in cinnamon, or at least cassia. This relates to cassia where there are high levels of coumarin, so overindulgence in Danish pastries should be avoided[1].

References

  1. Steenberg, A. (2015) Cinnamongate: is cinnamon safe to eat? 19 July 2015, Axel and Sophie Steenberg's Blog. Accessed 15 September 2015.

Further reading

  • Hemphill, I., Hemphill, K. (2014) The Spice and Herb Bible, Robert Rose. ISBN: 9780778804932.
  • Norman, J. (2015) Herbs & Spices: The Cook's Reference, DK Publishing. ISBN: 9781465435989.