The cinnamon tree, scientific name Cinnamomum, has a use for every single one of its parts—bark, roots, buds, leaves, and flowers. Most places in the U.S. tend to consume the Indonesian variety, Korintje cinnamon,Cinnamomum burmannii, a type cassia cinnamon, a plant native of Southern China. After being dried, the scented bark of Cassia cinnamon is widely sold in whole sticks or chips, but you’re more likely to find it in ground form.
The essential oil in cinnamon is known as cinnamic aldehyde, ranging from 65% to 95% of the total oil content. Cassia cinnamon varies between 0.9% and 7% levels of essential oil, depending on the specific climate where it is grown. The Indonesian variety, Korintje cinnamon, contains between 0.9% and 3% of essential oils.
In other languages, Indonesian cinnamon is known as shiwanikei (Japanese), falsa cunforeira (Portuguese), shan yue gui (Mandarin), and canela de java (Spanish). Other names for it are Korintje, Padang, and cassia vera.
The word “cinnamon” has an ancient history, starting with the Phoenicians, who borrowed “qinnamon” from Hebrew and influenced the Greek world’s “kinnamon”, which led to the Latin word “cinnamum” or “cinnamomum”. In medieval times, Old French spread “cinnamone” around the 14th century. Etymologists have proved that the spice trade is an old practice, dating back to ancient times.
Cinnamon is one of the first spices to be discovered and traded. It is widely agreed that cinnamon was imported from China to Egypt since 2000 BC. In literature, the first reference to cinnamon dates back to the 7th century BC in one of Sappho’s poems in Greek, where she referenced “kasia”. The Bible references sweet cinnamon (Ceylon) in Exodus 30:23-4. Herodotus, the Greek historian, mentioned India as a provider of cassia.
In medieval times, Arabs controlled much of the spice trade and intentionally withheld the location where cinnamon was harvested. Most European nations traded with Arab merchants under these conditions. The merchants transported both cassia and cinnamon from an undisclosed locale to the city of Alexandria in Egypt, where Venetian merchants made large purchases and moved the product into European markets. In the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey) rose into power and disrupted this lucrative market operation by blockading the traditional Silk Road routes. This historical period led to Iberian nations that were prone to sea-faring, Portugal and Spain, to begin searching for alternative maritime routes to Asian countries where spices could be found.
Most of the Indonesian cassia variety is harvested from trees grown in the wild, with the oldest trees providing the best cinnamon bark. Premium cinnamon comes from trees that are, at the very least, fifteen to twenty-five years old. Cinnamon farmers will harvest the product by cutting down the cassia and trees and peeling the bark in thirty-six-inch pieces. The lowest portion of the bark is thicker than other pieces and it has the most concentrated flavor. The farther the piece of bark is from the soil, the thinner and blander it will get.
After the harvest, the cinnamon pieces will be sun-dried for many days, so that the bark will curl into the necessary quills. Next, these pieces will be separated according to color, thickness, and to salvage the most intact pieces. Finally, they will be prepared and packaged to be exported.
This age-old practice has sustained the production and trade of cassia cinnamon in Indonesia for thousands of years, but its future is questionable. Since it is necessary to cut down the whole tree during harvest, replanting trees is an essential component of the process. Yet, cassia farmers are now less likely to replant the cassia trees. For them, it is a strategic decision to do so, as there are very high labor costs involved in the production of cinnamon and other agriculture practices (such as the cultivation of coffee, rubber, cocoa, and palm trees) have proven to be more profitable.
Thus, replanting has lowered to perilous levels and the total area devoted to cinnamon cultivation has decreased to give room to other plants. Now, cinnamon suppliers are going further and further into wild forests to cut down cassia trees. We are already seeing an impact on the availability of premium cassia cinnamon and soon, this will lead to higher costs as supplies dwindle. Higher prices and increased demand will certainly lure cassia farmers back into the cinnamon market, but new trees require at least seven to eight years before being ready for harvest. Without sustainable business and agricultural practices, the cinnamon market will eventually fall apart.
Varieties of Cinnamon
You may be confused about the terms “cassia” and “cinnamon” as they are frequently used interchangeably. However, we will elucidate that there are four mostly commercially relevant species of cinnamon among the genus Cinnamomum
Cinnamomum verum, true cinnamon, is also known as Sri Lankan or Ceylon cinnamon. The Cinnamomum verum tree is indigenous to Sri Lanka, with small groups of wild trees being also found in the southwestern regions of India. It was formerly known as Cinnamomum zeylanicum, in reference to its initial cultivation locale. The first European colonizers of Sri Lanka, the Portuguese, initially renamed the island as Ceilao. After the British took colonial rule of Ceilao in 1815, they called it Ceylon. In 1948, Ceylon finally gained independence from its colonizers, becoming a republic in 1972, when the nation was renamed Sri Lanka.
Other species of cinnamon include Cinnamomum loureiroi (Saigon or Vietnamese cinnamon), Cinnamomum aromaticum (Chinese cinnamon), Cinnamomum burmanii (Java, Indonesian, or Korintje cinnamon). The Cassia cinnamon category comprehends Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korintje cinnamon, marking their similarities and slight variance in color, shape, and flavor. Ceylon cinnamon is never classified as “cassia”.
Different Strands of Korintje Cinnamon
Most commercial bakeries and almost any gourmet chef you find in the U.S. utilize Korintje cinnamon because of its comparatively low price and familiar, delicious flavor. Champion’s prefers to stock the grade A Korintje cinnamon, of the highest quality, with 2% to 3% of cinnamon oil. In general, the cinnamon brands available at grocery stores source grade B or C Indonesian cinnamon, which has a significantly lower oil content. Premium, grade A cinnamon delivers the most concentrated flavor and fragrance among all Indonesian cinnamon grades. The grade A “quills” must be harvested in one-meter pieces, along with the wild tree’s main trunk, whereas lower grade cinnamon quill is harvested from the branches.
How To Use It
Korintje cassia cinnamon is employed in recipes that require a high level of sweetness, such as breads, cookies, ice cream, cakes, pastries, puddings, and pies. Some interesting savory dishes also use it in intricate ways, like dumplings, pickles, chutneys, soups, meat glazes, soups, squash, stews, and vinegars. Korintje cinnamon also provides spectacular enhancement to hot beverages like cocoa, cider, tea, and coffee. Many of our customers who are large stockers of microbrew also use cassia cinnamon in their beers.
Indonesian cinnamon matches well with chocolate, yogurt, nuts, apples, apricots, blueberries, bananas, cherries, oranges, and even vegetables—specifically cauliflower, corn, carrots, onions, corn, tomatoes, and spinach.
Other herbs and spices that are great companions to cinnamon are black pepper, allspice, cardamom, nutmeg, ginger, and ground cloves. But be careful, when you overcook cinnamon, it can become a bit bitter.
With its high concentration of fragrant essential oil, Korintje cinnamon provides a powerful and subtly sweet taste of cinnamon.