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What is cassia (or Dutch cinnamon)?

Did you know there is more than one type of cinnamon? The two forms of cinnamon at Gewürzhaus are Ceylon cinnamon (A-grade) and Dutch cinnamon, otherwise known as cassia. If you're cooking regularly with cinnamon, you may have come across these two different forms. You might also see the difference in the effect they add in your meal. Though both types of cinnamon have their differences, these two spices do share common elements, from the method of harvesting to the way they are packaged and used. Both Ceylon cinnamon and cassia are harvested from the bark of a tree, belonging to the same family known as Cinnamomum. Both are extracted in a form that curls, known as sticks or quills. Both are used in cooking either ground or as whole quills. But these similarities stop once you get to their unique tastes, smells and textures. Both spices are excellent when used for their intended purposes. However, knowing when to use cassia or Ceylon cinnamon will be the key to cooking a tasty and expertly spiced dish. Here’s how to tell the difference, by taste, texture and smell.

What is Dutch cinnamon?

Let's explore Dutch cinnamon first, or rather, cassia. Cassia (cinnamomum cassia) is known by its most common name, Dutch cinnamon, as well as a host of others: baker's cinnamon, bastard cinnamon, Batavia cinnamon or Saigon cinnamon in the USA. If you're interested in the origins of the name, read the Sydney Museum's exploration of the spice wars history and where the name 'Dutch cinnamon' comes from. Before it is ground into a powder, cassia cinnamon is in its bark-like form: it is made from stripping bark from the tree. In its bark form, cassia has a rough texture, a dark brown and red colour, and it's rolled into thicker sticks compared to those of Ceylon cinnamon. Its flavour is also more intense and almost bitter, which leads to a hot aftertaste when used to excess. You may have likely tasted cassia without even realising it: cassia is the ‘cinnamon’ found in commercially produced cinnamon buns and scrolls, raisin breads and the now ubiquitous cinnamon doughnut.

What is Ceylon cinnamon?

Ceylon cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka where 80% of the world’s supply is produced. For many years Sri Lankan cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) was the only variety of cinnamon called by that name. The name “Ceylon” is attributed to the former British name for Sri Lanka. When Ceylon cinnamon is harvested, the sheets that are taken from the tree (the bark) are usually processed by hand and rolled into thinner flat layers. When touched, these pieces of bark are finer in texture than those rolled from cassia cinnamon. Taste-wise, you'll notice it as lighter, brighter and bearing citrus tones. The flavour and aroma of Ceylon cinnamon are extremely mild and delicate— while it definitely reads as true cinnamon, its subtle and almost floral notes create the intensely aromatic scent that you find when you're cooking or baking with it.

So, what is the difference between "true" cinnamon and cassia?

The best way to tell the two apart is via the colour and the smell of the cinnamon and cassia. Cinnamon is warmer in tone, sweet in taste and more tan in colour. While cassia is a reddish-brown and has a coarse texture, and when used in cooking, it has a stronger, bitter flavour. That being said, when they are ground, it is harder to tell the difference.

When do you use cassia or true cinnamon?

When slow cooking meat dishes or couscous, cinnamon remains sweet. The bolder characteristics in cassia will tend to dominate other ingredients. If you're debating which one you need in a recipe, a good rule of thumb is to choose "true" cinnamon (a.k.a Ceylon cinnamon) for more delicately flavoured dishes, such as poached and spiced fruit, rice puddings, couscous. Use cassia when you want to go for bolder flavours. As with all cooking, experiment with these spices to create the flavours you love.

How to use cinnamon in your cooking and baking

We love using cinnamon in its various forms. We've used it in drinks like Turmeric Latte and Spiced Mango Lassi, in desserts like pavlova and spiced German cake, and even in dips. The versatility of cinnamon is one of its best qualities, allowing it to be used across baking and cooking. You can use whole cinnamon quills as a garnish, too. Our recipe for Mulled Wine, or Glühwein, calls for cinnamon quills to be used and adds to the drink a spicy warmth.


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