(Cinnamomum zeylanicum) A native of
Sir Lanka (Ceylon), the 'zeylanicum' in its botanical name is a
reminder that the ancient Dutch name for this island was Zeilan which
was later anglicized to Ceylon. It is probably the most popular cooking
spice in the Western world. Most of what is sold as cinnamon in the
United States is, in fact, C. aromaticum, a close relative, but
with a flavor much stronger than the delicate flavor of true cinnamon.
It does not help that some countries export
pieces of cassia bark brazenly labeled 'Cinnamon'. They are thick and
dark in color and woody, as the corky outer bark is still attached.
Cinnamon quills, by contrast, are paler and are made of 4 or 5 very
fine, tan-colored layers of parchment-thin bark which has been fermented
for 24 hours and the corky outer layer carefully removed. The fine bark
curls as it dries, and smaller quills are inserted into wider quills,
giving true cinnamon its grading of 'five zeros' or 'four zeroes' for
top quality quills. These quills are usually cut into 8 cm lengths.
Ground cinnamon is a pale tan color and has
a delicate fragrance while ground cassia is reddish brown and much more
pungent. The next time you purchase cinnamon, bear these guidelines in
mind and discover for yourself the delicate fragrance of true cinnamon.
In India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Malaysia,
cinnamon is as much part of savory spice blends as the more pungent
spices. A true Sri Lankan curry, whether mild or hot, always includes a
cinnamon stick simmered in the sauce. It is used in sweet cookery too,
but not with the same abandon as in Western countries.