Ingredient Intelligence

What Is Cinnamon, Exactly?

published Nov 4, 2022
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cinnamon stick and cinnamon powder
Credit: Tetra Images/Getty Images/Tetra images RF

Warm, enticing cinnamon is such a happy scent, evoking the memory of freshly baked cinnamon rolls on a cozy winter morning. Simultaneously sweet and spicy, cinnamon is a fragrant, dynamic spice that can be used in sweet recipes such as cinnamon toast and snickerdoodles or savory dishes like pho and pumpkin chili. With baking season fully upon us, it’s time to learn more about this ancient spice. 

Cinnamon is a spice derived from the bark of the cinnamon (Cinnamomum) tree, of which there are several kinds. It can either be sold in a dried powder or as rolled quills, known as cinnamon sticks.

Types of Cinnamon

  • Ceylon cinnamon: Also known as real or true cinnamon, from the Cinnamomum verum tree, native to Sri Lanka, Ceylon cinnamon has a softer texture and mild flavor, great for savory applications.
  • Chinese cinnamon: Derived from the Cinnamomum cassia tree, this is the most popular cinnamon in the U.S. and East Asia, where it’s grown. Loaded with essential oils, this cinnamon packs a big punch of flavor.
  • Saigon cinnamon: Saigon or Vietnamese cinnamon contains a ton of the compound cinnamaldehyde, giving it a spicy cinnamon flavor that works well in pho broth.
  • Indonesian cinnamon: This sweet and mellow cinnamon, scientifically known as Cinnamomum burmannii, is a good go-to spice for baking.

What does cinnamon do to the body?

Cinnamon has been used medicinally since at least 2800 BC, but despite its extensive historical use, the scientific effects of cinnamon on the body are still largely unknown. According to The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, “Studies done in people don’t clearly support using cinnamon for any health condition.” And while cinnamon is particularly touted for lowering blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes, research is inconclusive, according to the Mayo Clinic. However, cinnamon is a good source of antioxidants, which carry anti-inflammatory benefits, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And according to the National Library of Medicine, cinnamon is both antifungal and antibacterial.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

A Few of Our Favorite Cinnamon Recipes

Now that we know more about cinnamon, it’s time to use this versatile spice in sweet and savory recipes.