Of the many cinnamon varieties, Saigon cinnamon and Ceylon cinnamon are two of the most prized. Neither is the most popular type of cinnamon in the US, but both are fairly easy to find. Despite the fact that each of them is called cinnamon, these two flavorful ingredients do have some important differences. Read on to find out more about how they compare to each other in this SPICEography Showdown.
How do Saigon cinnamon and Ceylon cinnamon differ?
The first big difference to note is that Saigon cinnamon is a cassia, while Ceylon cinnamon is considered true cinnamon. The two come from closely related but different trees. Saigon cinnamon is known for its high concentration of essential oils, which accounts for it having a more complex and pungent flavor. Saigon cinnamon is intensely peppery and warm with a slight bitter note that can be unpleasant when the spice is used in excess.
Because of these oils, Saigon cinnamon is considered the very best cinnamon in the world in terms of flavor. Ceylon cinnamon’s flavor is more subtle. The flavor component in the essential oils of all cinnamon varieties is called cinnamaldehyde. Saigon cinnamon has a higher concentration of this compound when compared to Ceylon cinnamon. Cinnamaldehyde is also the compound that provides cinnamon’s anti-diabetes benefits. In other words, this may make Saigon cinnamon the more effective of the two for lowering blood sugar. In addition, cassia is better researched than Ceylon cinnamon for the purpose of treating diabetes.
The big downside of Saigon cinnamon and a key difference between it and Ceylon cinnamon is that it contains a high level of coumarin. Coumarin is a blood thinner that is known to cause liver damage and may also result in an increased cancer risk. Ceylon cinnamon does not have much coumarin and therefore is the safer option of the two if these health risks are a concern. The risk of ill-effects from consuming coumarin can be mitigated by consuming no more than one teaspoon of Saigon cinnamon per day.
Can you use Saigon cinnamon in place of Ceylon cinnamon and vice versa?
Saigon cinnamon can be used in place of Ceylon cinnamon as long as you are not making traditional dishes from Mexico or Southeast Asia. In both regions, Ceylon cinnamon is the preferred option and replacing it with Saigon cinnamon will alter the flavor profile. In most cases, the alteration will not render the dish unpalatable but it will not give you the most authentic version of the dish. If you are simply looking for a flavorful dish and are not overly invested in tradition, Saigon cinnamon is a perfectly fine alternative. In much the same way, Ceylon cinnamon makes a decent, but imperfect Saigon cinnamon substitute. It will provide enough of the same flavor to be in the ballpark of the traditional flavor profile but will not match it exactly.
When should you use Saigon cinnamon and when should you use Ceylon cinnamon?
As a type of cassia, Saigon cinnamon works best in applications formulated for cassia. For example, Saigon cinnamon pairs nicely with the other pungent spices in Chinese five spice powder. Of course, it is the best type of cinnamon for Vietnam’s famous pho. If you are in America, the flavor profile of Saigon cinnamon will be the closer of the two to your idea of cinnamon since most cinnamon sold in the US is cassia.
Ceylon cinnamon is a milder spice and works best in simpler dishes with fewer spices that might mask its flavor. Use it in chocolate beverages and baked goods as well as in churros and other Mexican favorites.