From the Spice Cupboard: Vietnamese Cassia-Cinnamon

Compared to the curled quills of most cinnamon and cassia varieties, the rough, flat bark of Vietnamese cassia-cinnamon might seem inelegant, but the flavor is something quite remarkable. Sweet, spicy, and robust, it's the cinnamon we reach for most often when cooking anything from baked goods to phở.

Closely related to cassia and true cinnamon, Vietnamese or Saigon cassia-cinnamon is harvested from the young branches of the Cinnamomum loureirii tree. Its high essential oil content (up to 8 percent) makes it the most potent of the cinnamon varieties. This intensity doesn't work in all dishes, but when you want a rich, dark, vibrant flavor, there is no match.

Vietnamese cassia-cinnamon is a key ingredient in phở (Vietnamese beef and noodle soup). It also bumps up the flavor and aroma of baked goods, or any other dish where you'd use cinnamon. Use it full-strength if cinnamon is the primary note, or reduce the usual amount for a lighter level of sweetness and pungency.

Look for Vietnamese cassia-cinnamon in 1- to 6-inch strips, smaller chips, or ground form at your local spice shop or online from purveyors such as The Silk Road Spice Merchant or Penzeys.

Related: Video: Cinnamon from Spices of Life

(Images: Sabra Krock of Cookbook Catchall, The Silk Road Spice Merchant)