There are hundreds of different cinnamon varieties but only a few are widely sold and the most common of those are Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is the type that is most commonly used in North America and most of it comes from Indonesia. It is popular because of its low cost. It is relatively inexpensive because it does not require the labor intensive processing needed for Ceylon cinnamon. Both types of cinnamon trees are related to each other and are distant relatives of the bay tree.
So what are the differences between these two cinnamon varieties? Is one better for some uses than the other? Below we look at how these two spices differ and how you can use them to flavor your dishes in another SPICEography Showdown.
How similar are the flavors of Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon?
Ceylon cinnamon is called canela in Mexico and is sometimes referred to as “real cinnamon.” Its flavor is not what most in North America would associate with cinnamon. It offers a more mellow and subtle flavor when compared to Cassia. The flavor of Ceylon cinnamon can be described as being brighter and containing more floral and citrus notes. On the other hand, Cassia cinnamon provides the deeper and spicier flavor that we associate with cinnamon rolls and cider.
Do Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon look similar?
While both cinnamon types are made from the inner bark of trees, Ceylon cinnamon sticks consist of multiple thin layers of the bark rolled up like tobacco leaves in a cigar. They have a lighter golden brown color. This type of cinnamon stick is fragile and tends to flake. Cassia sticks are the cinnamon sticks with which most of us are familiar. They are harder, thicker and possess a reddish tint.
Is one type of cinnamon more readily available than the other?
As stated in the opening paragraph, Cassia is much more widely used in North America when compared to Ceylon cinnamon; however, Ceylon cinnamon can be found in most Mexican markets and even in the Mexican food section of some supermarkets.
Can you use either cinnamon type in place of the other?
When it comes to replacing the subtle complexities of Ceylon cinnamon, the answer is a firm no. This is especially so if you are making classic dishes from Mexico, the Middle East or Europe and want them to taste authentic. Using Cassia cinnamon in these dishes will make them taste very different than the authentic versions and not in a good way. On the other hand, the use of Ceylon cinnamon can add a sophisticated touch dishes in which the more pungent Cassia cinnamon is traditionally used. Note that Ceylon cinnamon is often used in savory dishes as well as in desserts.
Are both types of cinnamon equally healthy?
Here we come to one of the main differences between the two types of cinnamon. The difference lies in the amount of a substance called Coumarin that each cinnamon type contains. Cassia cinnamon has far more of it than Ceylon cinnamon. This substance is used to make the drug warfarin, which is an anticoagulant. It can also cause liver damage, cancer along with various other side effects. It is important to note that these effects typically occur only when Cassia cinnamon is consumed in high quantities.