Types of Cinnamon

Ground cinnamon may be a spice-shelf staple, but the different types of cinnamon can be used quite differently.

Cinnamon is a widely used spice in both sweet and savory dishes. In fact, we have over 500 cinnamon recipes in our arsenal. We'd bet that almost everyone has a jar or two in their spice cabinet, too.

But did you know there are actually different types of cinnamon? Some species of cinnamon work better in sweeter dishes like snickerdoodles or cinnamon rolls, and others are ideal in savory dishes like maple cinnamon ham or slow cooker pulled pork.

We spoke to Ethan Frisch, spice guru and co-founder of spice purveyor Burlap & Barrel about the various types of cinnamon available and when to use them.

What Is Cinnamon?

Believe it or not, cinnamon actually comes from the inner bark of a tree. When harvested, it is very light in color and turns dark brown as it dries. It is then ground into a powder. The various species of cinnamon come from different types of cinnamon trees, all originating from the Cinnamomum genus.

Different types of cinnamon on table
Kritsada Panichgul/Meredith

Types of Cinnamon

There are four main species of commercially cultivated cinnamon.

1. Cinnamomum verum (Ceylon Cinnamon)

Often called true cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon, or soft cinnamon, this variety is native to Sri Lanka and Southern India, but is widely grown in Mexico and East Africa. It is also sometimes called soft cinnamon because of its soft texture. If you hear the term Mexican cinnamon, this is often what it refers to. "It's more herbal and savory, not super sweet," says Frisch.

2. Cinnamomum burmannii (Korintje Cinnamon)

Sometimes called Korintje cinnamon, this one is generally milder. It is very common in America — it accounts for close to 70 percent of North American cinnamon imports. Frisch describes it as "a friendly cinnamon that works for everything."

3. Cinnamomum cassia (Saigon Cinnamon)

This is most often found on supermarket shelves as Saigon cinnamon. It originates from Southeast Asia. It's pretty sweet, not super spicy. "Most of what's imported as Saigon cinnamon is actually Cinnamomum cassia, grown in Vietnam," says Frisch. "Saigon cinnamon is a misnomer because it was actually the trading point – there is no cinnamon grown near Saigon."

4. Cinnamomum loureiroi (Royal Cinnamon)

Sometimes called Royal cinnamon, this is harder to find on grocery store shelves, but spice purveyors often sell it. It's mostly grown in central Vietnam. "It's super sweet, super spicy," says Frisch, "Cinnamon amped up to 10."

The area that Burlap & Barrel gets it from used to be the cinnamon provider to the royal court — hence the name, Royal cinnamon.

Cooking with Cinnamon

Cinnamon is used widely in both sweet and savory dishes. If you are looking for a savory application, Frisch recommends Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) as it lends itself to savory dishes. "Cinnamon in rice, in tomato sauce — so good," he says. "It's often an unidentifiable secret ingredient that makes a dish taste more complex and interesting." Think of Cinnamomum verum and Cinnamomum loureiroi as your two extremes from savory to sweet with everything else in the middle.

You'll often find it in Cincinnati chili, Middle Eastern dishes like Shish Tawook or Indian dishes like Lamb Vindaloo. It commonly appears in many curries as well.

If you are unsure about the type of cinnamon you are using, or you are testing out a new brand, Frisch recommends making a quick cinnamon tea to test out the flavor and strength: "Take a teaspoon and pour over hot water, let it infuse, and taste it," he says. "It should be sweet and spicy. If it isn't, the cinnamon isn't worth using or you'll need to use more to get same intensity of flavor."

For sweeter dishes, Frisch really likes Saigon cinnamon or Royal cinnamon, which he finds to be amazing in cinnamon buns and snickerdoodles and really any cinnamon dessert like oatmeal cookies or a variety of coffee cakes.

As for those cinnamon sticks? "Use them more for appearance than flavor," he says. After all, they are just a perfectly rolled piece of tree bark.

And don't forget to replace your cinnamon (and most of your spices) after a few months to a year as they lose their pungency. "It's better to buy smaller amounts, more often," says Frisch.

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