If you are like me, your approach to buying cinnamon involves picking up a large jar of ground cinnamon from the grocery store, which you keep in your pantry and proceed to use over the next year or two. While there is nothing wrong with this approach, the more I learn about cinnamon, the more I wonder if it might be worth taking more care when purchasing and using this special spice.
For starters, there are two main varieties of cinnamon on the market, Ceylon and cassia. Ceylon cinnamon is apparently milder and preferred by chefs and bakers. Cassia cinnamon is stronger and the primary variety of cinnamon available in the commercial market. It is likely that cassia cinnamon is the only variety that I have ever cooked with and look forward to getting my hands on some Ceylon in the future to compare both types. How does one determine whether the cinnamon is Ceylon or cassia? Aside from the label specifying so, purchasing the cinnamon in stick form is a good way to determine its variety. If it is cassia, the cinnamon will look like a single bark layer rolled into a stick, as shown in the picture above. If it is ceylon, the stick will appear as many thin layers of bark rolled together.
There are two other reasons to buy your cinnamon as sticks versus powder. The first is freshness. As with any other spice, the fresher the better. By purchasing the cinnamon in stick form and grating it into powder when needed, you get to enjoy the spice freshly ground, similar to the way people enjoy freshly ground coffee or pepper. The key is to having the proper grinder such as a coffee grinder or hand held micro grater. The second reason to buy cinnamon sticks versus powder is to ensure that what you are consuming is actually cinnamon. While it is difficult to specifically quantify the prevalence of cinnamon fraud, it does make the list of 15 most common counterfeit foods according to Bon Appetit.
So there you have it. Who knew there was so much to think about when cooking with cinnamon!