Cinnamon: The World’s Most Popular Baking Spice

Cinnamon’s distinctive taste and aroma can be enjoyed solo as in cinnamon rolls, or in tandem with other warm spices like cloves, nutmeg, and allspice: in cakes, cookies and fruit crisps, breads and pies, puddings, ice cream—you name it!

It’s also common in savory dishes—like soups, sauces, chutneys, curries, catsup, pickles, squash, potatoes, green beans, red beets, applesauce, vinegars, meat, fish and poultry glazes and marinades and grains. Or try it in hot drinks like cider, coffee, tea, and cocoa, too.

It depends on the cook developing the blend, of course, but because it complements so many foods and other spices, you can often find cinnamon in many spice blends, such as curry powder, garam masala, sambhar powder, and five spice powder. Baking blends like apple pie spice and pumpkin pie spice, as well as many pickling blends, seafood boil blends, tea blends (like Chai), and mulling spice blends also rely upon cinnamon.

While the names cinnamon and cassia are often used interchangeably—and the plants are related—there are botanical and practical differences. Cassia is reddish-brown and pungently sweet; it’s grown primarily in China and the Indonesian islands. (The outer bark isn’t removed during the harvesting of cassia.) True cinnamon, on the other hand, is buff-colored and mild; it generally comes from Sri Lanka (ancient Ceylon, from which it gets its name) and the Malabar Coast of India. Cinnamon is considered a more complex flavor, spicy rather than sweet, with woody undertones. Each holds its place in various ethnic cuisines and kitchens. Most of the powdered cinnamon sold in supermarkets today is cassia.

By the way, you can tell cinnamon sticks from cassia sticks by the way they curl: cinnamon sticks roll from only one side, but cassia sticks curl inward from both sides toward the center.

About our cinnamon: Our Indonesian cassia (Cinnamomum burmanii) — considered the most flavorful in the world — comes from Mt. Korintje in Sumatra, where the altitude contributes to the spice’s intense, reddish-brown color and strong flavor.

In the mountainous regions of North Vietnam, farmers harvest Frontier’s Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureirii) from trees that have matured at least 20 years. Its pungent aroma and rich flavor is the result of the high oil content; we purchase cinnamon cut from the base of the tree, where the highest concentration or oil is found. We also offer Cinnamomum verum, or “true cinnamon,” from Sri Lanka.

Now that we’ve got you craving this delicious spice, here’s a simple way to enjoy it — perfect for a winter’s day. Wrap your hands around a mug of this wonderful hot beverage. No baking required!

Cinnamon Soother

2 cups boiling water
1 teaspoon favorite green or black tea
1 teaspoon dried chamomile leaves
2 teaspoons honey (or to taste)
1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 teaspoon cinnamon granules
2 cinnamon sticks (for stirring)

Pour boiling water over tea and chamomile leaves. Steep, covered, for about 10 minutes. Strain. Stir in honey, lemon juice, and cinnamon granules. Pour into two cups and add cinnamon stick stirrers. Serve hot or iced.

Of course, since cinnamon is so popular for baking, here are some other recipes containing cinnamon you may want to try.

We’d love to hear your favorite ways to savor the flavor of cinnamon.

Guest Post: Sri Lanka Sourcing Trip, by Tony Bedard

Today’s post is by Frontier CEO Tony Bedard, who accompanied Purchasing Manager Kai Stark to visit Well Earth partner SOFA, the Small Organic Farmers Association, in Sri Lanka. For more about SOFA and the Frontier-funded Training Center there, see our website article, Organic Training in Sri Lanka.

At least once a year I try to make a sourcing trip with a member of our purchasing team. I not only get a better understanding of the work of our purchasing staff, but the trips give me firsthand knowledge of our relationships with our grower partners. I can then share what I learn with our employees, our board, the media, and our customers.

Early this year, I accompanied Kai Stark on a trip to Sri Lanka — an island nation off the southeast coast of India. Sri Lanka is roughly half the size of Iowa with seven times as many people.

Until 1972 it was known as Ceylon — the source of true Ceylon cinnamon. Sri Lanka is the center of the Buddhist religion and culture. It’s a very beautiful island with lush tropical forests and a very diverse landscape. It’s also said to have beautiful white beaches, although we didn’t get to see any of those.

The island was prized for its location on a main shipping route early on, and it was colonized by the Dutch, then the Portuguese, and finally the British before gaining its independence as Sri Lanka in 1948. I guess this partly explains why they drive on the wrong side of the road (to us, anyway). Sri Lankans showed us time and again that they had no problem passing into oncoming traffic or driving on the shoulder of the road.

It takes a lot of travel time to get to and from Sri Lanka. On our trip home, we left at what was 9:00 AM Saturday morning back home in Iowa and arrived here at 10:30 PM on Sunday night, worn out by two ten-hour flights, a couple long layovers and another two-hour flight from Dallas.

After a similar long flight on the way there, we landed in Colombo and drove to a city called Kandy, where we met with our supplier partners. The company has a number of facilities around the city of Kandy that process and package cinnamon, cloves, lemon grass, ginger, nutmeg, and teas along with a few other spices and herbs.

While we found their plant and facilities to be very nice and the employees extremely positive, it was even more impressive to see the network of over 2000 small organic farmers — most of whom farm less than two acres of land to support their families. While in the fields, we saw how the farmers grew and processed the nutmeg and cinnamon that we buy.

We’re glad that Frontier’s purchases allow the farmers to earn a 10-15% premium for growing organic products.

One of our primary goals for the trip was to check on the progress of a new training center near Dambulla, in the central part of Sri Lanka. The training center includes roughly 100 acres of experimental farm ground where growers can get both classroom and hands-on training in growing organically and bio-dynamically. During the first year after the center opened, over 120 farmers were trained — some from as far away as Pakistan.

It was a joy and a privilege to see firsthand the impact that our business with them has on the growers and other workers and their families and communities. We can all be proud that our work here at Frontier has such a positive impact on people halfway around the world.

Tony Bedard, far right.

Kai Stark, left.

Check out the Frontier website for more information and a video about this sourcing trip to Sri Lanka.