Cinnamon quills, which are available in different grades based on quill diameter, are obtained from the very thin inner bark of the cinnamon tree. Between six and ten very thin pieces of cinnamon bark are rolled up together and left to dry. The thinner the quill, the more exquisite the aroma.
Cinnamon quills exported to the West are usually of the lowest quality and are ground to be sold in powder form. The sweet, highly aromatic flavor of true Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka is the product of choice for gourmets. Cassia, a cheaper form of cinnamon which is mainly grown in Indonesia and Vietnam, is similar in taste to true cinnamon, but with a much less distinctive and intense flavor.
It is used in commercially produced food such as cereals, breads, and cookies, but is also sold as “cinnamon” in powdered and quill form.
Cinnamon is a very old spice, but until the 16th century only Chinese cinnamon or cassia was known in the West. From the 16th to the 18th century, cinnamon was one of the most popular and most expensive spices in Europe. In Western cooking it was (and still is) almost exclusively used in sweet dishes, such as cakes, cookies, and fruit compotes.
Not surprisingly, cinnamon is widely used in its native Sri Lanka and India, where it is a staple ingredient in savory curries. In both countries it is also used to flavor sweet teas. Cinnamon is also popular in countries with Persian and Arabic influences, such as in the Middle East, the Arabian Peninsula, and in Northern Africa.
In Sri Lanka cinnamon is mainly used in quill form, whereas in many other cuisines the powdered form is preferred. Cinnamon powder is part of a variety of different spice mixtures, such as Indian garam masala, Western style curry powder, Moroccan ras el hanout, or Chinese five-spice powder.
What To Look For
When purchasing cinnamon it is important to note the country of origin as only cinnamon grown in Sri Lanka is true cinnamon. Cinnamon from Indonesia, Vietnam, or China is not true cinnamon but the sightly inferior and cheaper cassia.