cinnamon

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The Spice House
Website: http://www.thespicehouse.com
Cinnamon reviewed: Ceylon; Indonesian, Chinese, Vietnamese cassia.
Cost: The Spice House provided samples for this review.

The story of The Spice House and Tom and Patty Erd begins with the national Penzey’s Spices retail chain; Patty is the daughter of the Penzey’s  founders. I really like The Spice House website because it’s thorough, informative, and user-friendly. Most of the reviews seem to be written personally by Patty.

Ceylon

Ceylon “true cinnamon” ($7.99/4oz)

Ceylon cinnamon and bark

Ceylon cinnamon

Ceylon cinnamon has a bright, citrus flavor that’s different than the cassia typically found in American stores.  The Spice House’s Ceylon cinnamon has a very light, yellow-tan color.  The taste is very sweet on the tongue. The Ceylon cinnamon “soft-sticks” are made of flaky, light, fragile layers that are easy to grind at home. Use Ceylon cinnamon where it’s culturally appropriate, such as Mexican food. I also like a 50%/50% blend with Vietnamese cinnamon for exciting, unique cinnamon rolls.

Cassia

Cassia is the typical American baking cinnamon, with a darker, more robust flavor than Ceylon cinnamon. I made a batch of oatmeal cookies with each cassia cinnamon from The Spice House. The ingredients and amounts are equal except the type of cinnamon used. The three batches were taste-tested by a large group of colleagues, and the comments are summarized in each description. This is only an evaluation of the flavor of each cinnamon in oatmeal cookies, the results would no doubt be drastically different in another dish.

Chinese cinnamon “China Tung Hing Cassia” ($4.49/4oz)

Chinese cinnamon and bark

Chinese cassia cinnamon

The Chinese cassia from The Spice House is the lightest and sweetest of the three cassia varieties. It actually seems to enhance the inherent sweetness of foods, so use with caution when baking. The color is tan, with light red tones. It is a simpler, smoother cinnamon, the flavor doesn’t really stand out on its own. It would be appropriate for everyday use in spice blends or dishes where cinnamon is a background flavor. It was my least favorite of The Spice House cassias.

Taste test notes: light taste, too sweet, sweeter, weaker, one-dimensional, simpler, lighter, insignificant flavor

Indonesian cinnamon “Korintje cassia” ($3.59/4oz)

Indonesian cinnamon and bark

Indonesian cassia cinnamon

Indonesian Korintje is the most common variety of cassia; grade B and C are typically sold at supermarkets. The Grade-A Korintje cassia from The Spice House is higher quality than the stuff you can buy in the grocery store. The color is a bright, rusty orange. The general taste of Korintje is best-described as “traditional”, and brings to mind spice cookies and cakes. The Korintje from The Spice House is very fresh, and has a fantastic piney, effervescent quality that distinguishes it from other sources. I also find it fresher than Penzey’s jars of Korintje (this could be due to packaging differences, though). The pungency is somewhere in between Chinese and Vietnamese, and people who find Vietnamese cinnamon too strong may prefer Indonesian Korintje.

Taste test: traditional, medium, in between others; brings out saltiness in cookies; good for food, not too sweet, soft, balanced, subtle; tastes like gingersnaps

Vietnamese cinnamon “Saigon cassia” ($5.29/4oz)

Vietnamese cinnamon

Vietnamese cassia cinnamon

Vietnamese cinnamon is always a favorite here in the VanillaReview test kitchen. The sample from The Spice House is dark brown in color, with deep red tones. The aroma of is overwhelming and rich; it’s definitely the strongest of the three cassia samples that I received. The flavor is deep and heavy. It has some heat, and is the only of the three samples that really makes your tongue tingle. Use in dishes where cinnamon is a feature flavor; voted best for oatmeal cookies in the taste test.

Taste test: sparkling, tangy, fuller flavor, smoky/woody/humid aroma, heavier, strongest flavor

Penzey's Cassia Cinnamon Varieties

Penzey’s Spices, a spice outlet with stores and mail order, carries three varieties of cassia cinnamon, as well as a ceylon cinnamon. I bought the three cassia varieties because multiple cinnamon terroirs are really difficult to find. You can check out all Penzey’s cinnamon products here. I tried each type in a batch of oatmeal cookies, my favorite cinnamon vehicle.

Korintje (Indonesia) cassia cinnamon ($4.15/4oz)

This is a high-quality version of the cassia you buy in a supermarket. Its taste and smell are stronger and fresher than the typical, store-bought stuff. The color is vibrant orange, with tinges of cayenne red. Its flavor is clean, soft, classic, and sweet – especially in baked goods. It’s “simply cinnamon”, with very few unique characteristics of its own. In the oatmeal cookie test, this cinnamon was too sweet and one-dimensional to carry the cookie by itself. It would be perfect for spice blends where cinnamon isn’t a feature flavor, such as curries, gingerbread, or spice cakes.

Chinese cassia cinnamon ($4.45/4oz)

This is my least favorite of Penzey’s cassia varieties. The color is rustier and browner than the Korintje cassia, and it doesn’t have a very strong cinnamon aroma. There are dusty, musty overtones that remind me of a used bookstore. It gives me an “old forest” kind of feeling. Fortunately, the cookies didn’t taste musty. This cassia has slightly more personality than Korintje, but in my opinion, not enough to stand on its own as a feature flavor. The cinnamon taste is less pungent and spicy than the other types, and leaves the palate quickly. Another good candidate for blending, or perhaps delicately-flavored cinnamon treats.

Vietnamese (Saigon) cassia cinnamon ($7.65/4oz)

Which cinnamon is the “best” is a matter of taste. Vietnamese cassia has a bad reputation with some, but it’s my personal favorite. I find it to have the most exciting flavor and aroma of the three Penzey’s products, and it really motivated me to learn more about cinnamon.  The color is a golden brown with some orange hues. The smell is spicy hot, sharp, and overwhelming. This is a strong, pungent, smack-you-in-the-face cassia! It isn’t as sweet-tasting as the others, but rather has a dark, bold quality that makes it great as a feature flavor. If you don’t intend for cinnamon to be a stand-out flavor, use something else. The bottle from Penzey’s recommends using 1/3rd less than your recipes call for, but I usually use the full amount because I really enjoy it. It made fantastic oatmeal cookies with a rich, complex taste.

Madagascar Cinnamon

Madagascar cinnamon sticks, SA.VA. Import – Export, 3€ per 3 sticks.

Cinnamon is a favorite holiday spice, perfect for Santa’s cookies and Christmas morning sticky rolls. SA.VA.’s Madagascar cinnamon is different from the bland, ground powder at the local market. The ground sticks have a bright, hot, citrus aroma. It makes me think of cinnamon bears or red hots. The sticks are made of thin layers, and I can crush them with my fingers and grind them in a coffee grinder — something I can’t normally do with cassia cinnamon sticks.

This cinnamon has a yellow-tan color that is lighter than the usual, rusty-red hues of traditional cassia. Its bright aroma also  stands in contrast to the typically warmer, darker smell of cassia. Because of these qualities, I initially thought this was ceylon (true) cinnamon, and not the cassia cinnamon I’m used to buying in European and American supermarkets. Ceylon cinnamon is the cinnamon of choice in Mexico, and perhaps the UK.  I wrote to Edith at SA.VA. to ask if this was ceylon cinnamon. According to Edith, I’m completely wrong:

All the cinnamon from Madagascar is regarded as cassia, although very different from the cassia usually sold in the European supermarket. So this cassia classification does not make happy the Madagascar cinnamon producers,  that would prefer another denomination, as for instance the “Madagascar cinnamon” that we’re using in our technical schedule.

Our cinnamon comes from a family farm production in the region of Tamatave (east coast of Madagascar), as I know this family very well for a long time I’ve started to cooperate with them here in Europe.

With a citrus aroma and delicate layers, this Madagascar strain is a cassia that shares many characteristics with ceylon cinnamon. It is unique in the world, and will surely add a personal signature to your baked goods.