Cinnamon: spice, herb, or both?
When I posted this shot of cinnamon sticks on Google+, a lengthy discussion took place. There was a challenge going on in a photo community I belong to. The theme was ‘herbs.’ ‘Hmmmm, is cinnamon an herb?’ I wondered. I’ve always thought of cinnamon as a spice, but when I started researching it, I found that cinnamon has many characteristics of an herb as well.
A quick note to my friends at our local spice shop gave me this insight:
“We designate cinnamon as a SPICE. The terms “spice” and “herb” have both been used to describe parts of plants (possibly dried) that are used to enhance the flavor or taste of food. In addition, herbs have been used to augment cosmetics, preserve foods and cure illnesses. Spices and herbs can consist of flower buds, bark, seeds, leaves or many other parts of a plant. Over time the definitions for spices and herbs have changed a bit. In the past, spices have been categorized as fragrant, aromatic plant products like cinnamon, cloves, ginger and pepper. These spices are found in plants grown in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. While herbs have always been recognized as the more green, leafy products like mint, rosemary and thyme grown in more temperate areas.”
After taste testing cinnamon at our local spice store, Savory Spice Shop, I’ve learned a number of things I want to share with you.
There are basically two kinds of cinnamon derived from different types of trees in different parts of the world:
1. Cassia cinnamon. Obtained from the bark of Cassia trees. This is what we generally find in most supermarkets in the United States. There are a few varieties of cassia cinnamon, but each dries into the familiar scroll-like roll with a hard outer shell. The three main types of cassia are separated by region and include the following: Chinese: a notably sweet aroma; Indonesian: tends to ball and clump when added to liquid; very strong Red-Hots flavor; Vietnamese: really high percentage of essential oils, very strong.
2. Ceylon cinnamon. This is true cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon principally comes from Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil and the Caribbean. It looks more like a rolled cigar than a rolled scroll, and it’s flaky and brittle to touch. The flavor of true cinnamon is more smooth and complex than western varieties, often carrying notes of pine, citrus and floral. Ceylon cinnamon can be found in both organic and regular forms.
Is cinnamon a spice, herb, or both?
Another description on enotes.com:
“Herbs are the green, leafy parts of plants. They are most efficacious and flavorsome when used fresh, and they are mostly grown in temperate to hot regions. Spices are derived from any part of a plant that is not a leaf: for example, cloves are flower buds, cinnamon is bark, ginger is a root, peppercorns are berries, nigella is seed, cumin is a fruit, saffron is stigmas, cardamom is pods and seeds, and asafetida is a gum. Spices are usually used in small amounts, are best used dry (the drying process often enhances the flavor), and most grow in subtropical or tropical climates. One single plant can be both an herb and a spice. Aromatic seeds like dill are a spice, while dill leaves are an herb. However, coriander and hamburg parsley roots, garlic and fennel bulbs are all regarded as herbs rather than spices.”
My favorite uses for cinnamon fall on the culinary side. Starbucks makes a delicious cinnamon dulce latte. I like to add cinnamon to coffee grounds to give my morning coffee a little spicy kick. There’s cinnamon coffee cake, cinnamon rolls, cinnamon and sugar toast. Berry pies always benefit from a bit of cinnamon in the filling and sprinkled on top before baking. I’m so grateful to have access to pure cinnamon at my local spice store, Savory Spice Shop.
There you go… probably way more than you ever wanted to know about cinnamon. From now on I’ll be buying cinnamon in it’s purest, true form.