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Cinnamon, A Popular Cooking Spice

Cinnamon, A popular Cooking Spice

(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.

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