Everything You Need to Know About Cooking With Cinnamon
Here's your primer on using this fragrant spice for more than just cinnamon rolls.
Cinnamon (scientific name Cinnamomum Lauraceae) is the inner bark of a number of varieties of trees in Indonesia, China, Vietnam, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and other countries in very hot, tropical regions. It has a hot, spicy flavor, and an intense perfume familiar in most world cuisines. In the US, we think of it as primarily for sweets and baked goods, while many countries utilize it in savory recipe preparations as well.
“True” cinnamon (cinnamomum verum) is a very delicate treat, one I prefer not to use in cooked applications, because all of the delicacy easily gets lost. Instead, I’d reach for the heartier, stronger cinnamomum cassia, the most common cinnamon. It easily stands up to heat and other flavors.
I most often recommend buying whole spices and grinding them when you need them, but with cinnamon, I opt for buying small amounts of the ground spice and replacing it when needed. The glorious perfume will dissipate in time after grinding, and since one of the hallmarks of cinnamon is the perfume, this really is a case of not succumbing to the temptation to buy a large amount. Yes, you can grind cinnamon sticks, but not very easily or efficiently. So I advise keeping the sticks for drinks or dishes where they can be left whole for simmering… such as in mulled cider or wine, hot chocolate, and various curries.
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While I love cinnamon in sweet baked goods as much as anyone, I would urge you to expand your repertoire to the many cuisines that utilize cinnamon in savory dishes. And don’t worry, cinnamon used in a savory context will not overwhelm a dish’s flavor profile, as can be the case with cinnamon-spiced desserts. A touch of cinnamon in a meat dish, for example, imparts a warm, accent flavor and aroma that complements the other elements of a dish with grace—not entirely unlike black pepper.
A few of the many foods you may wish to start pairing cinnamon with include: chocolate, beef, lamb, chicken, fish, apples, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, pork, and carrots. You may also consider including a touch of cinnamon in your pickling spice blend! If you’re looking for recipe inspiration, start by exploring dishes in the following cuisines: Persian, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish, Indian, and Moroccan.
Rather than reserve it for cinnamon buns and snickerdoodles, give this familiar flavor a try at dinner this week. Start with a recipe like Instant Pot Rajma Masala, Chicken with Dates, Olives, and Cinnamon or Roasted Spiced Carrots, and you’re sure to begin reaching for the earthy, warming spice with more frequency.