Everything You Need To Know About Cinnamon

Senior food producer, June Xie, is going to walk you through everything you need to know about cinnamon.

Video Transcript

JUNE XIE: Welcome to the "Spice Show." Our guest of honor today is cinnamon. I think most of us know and love cinnamon. We love it in our oatmeal, in our baked goods, in all of our coffee cakes, cinnamon buns and horchata. Ooh. The list goes on and on.

Most of the time we go and we just buy "ground cinnamon." But did you know that there are actually 250 species of cinnamon? There are a lot of cinnamon, and some of them do taste quite different from others. So what exactly is cinnamon? Tree bark.

Specifically, it's the inner bark of a group of Evergreen trees. The bark is stripped then dried then rolled into these little sticks called quills. I actually have a lot of varieties of cinnamon on hand. But most of them aren't labeled specifically what kind of cinnamon they are.

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The three that I do have on hand today are Korintje, Saigon, and Ceylon. And only one of these is true cinnamon. Korintje, a.k.a. Indonesian cinnamon, scientific name, Cinnamomum burmannii. And Saigon cinnamon, a.k.a. Vietnamese cinnamon, Cinnamomum loureiroi. (WHISPERING) Very sorry, I'm not a scientist and I don't know how to speak Latin.

These two are actually imposters. Well, not really. But they are Cassia, and not true cinnamon. Most of the cinnamon that we're sold is Cassia. You can see that the Cassia cinnamon are a little bit darker in color than the Ceylon cinnamon.

You can also see that Cassia quills are deeper and sturdier than Ceylon quills, which are flakier and more fragile. Even when ground, you can see that Cassia has a coarser texture than the much finer Ceylon. Most of the cinnamon that we find in stores are Cassia, because Cassia is much cheaper to produce.

Ceylon, on the other hand, being thinner and much more fragile makes it much more labor-intensive to produce, and therefore, more expensive. Price, however, does not always dictate better or worse.

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Each of these has a slightly different flavor profile suited to different recipes and to different palates and different people and different preferences.

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As far as what's true cinnamon? You're looking at it. Ceylon cinnamon from Sri Lanka is true cinnamon. Latin name Cinnamomum verum.

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Depending on the quality of her cinnamon, the flavors can vary widely, even if they're the same "type" of cinnamon. Korintje, Saigon, Ceylon. At the end of the day, after tasting all of them, if you ask me if I have a favorite for all time, the answer is no.

They all have pleasant flavors on their own and different characteristics to contribute to different dishes. So excited to play with these. In fact, after tasting these, I kind of feel like Korintje is my favorite now. You're always allowed to change your mind, you know?

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Depending on the freshness and the quality of your cinnamon, I would say the spice level out of 1 to 10 might range from a 1 to a 3.5. It ranks just a little under a cracked black pepper.

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In terms of health benefits, cinnamon contains flavonoids, which have antioxidant properties. Which some studies have shown to be effective in lowering blood cholesterol and blood sugar. Cassia has been used as a dietary supplement as far back as 2,700 BC.

Before it made its way to Europe, it was used by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Hebrews as a cooking spice, a perfume, and some medicinal additions to their diet. Even today, it's used as a warming spice in Ayurvedic traditions and traditional Chinese medicine to balance imbalance in the body. It's said to help with menstrual cycles, poor digestion, lots of other ailments.

Take note though, because you can definitely have too much of a good thing. Coumarin is a compound found in cinnamon that is a blood thinning agent that can do liver damage if you eat too much of it.

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So how exactly do you use this delightful spice? I do have a few favorites. And yes, my stomach is gurgling, because (WHISPERING) cinnamon makes me hungry. My feeling is in the North American diet, cinnamon is often known and used as a sweet spice. But coming from a Chinese background, cinnamon is actually used as a savory spice.

In fact, I remember when we first immigrated here, my parents were shocked and kind of disgusted to find that cinnamon is so prevalent in so many American sweets. All right, if you're as hungry as I am, let's get started on a day's worth of cinnamon recipes. So I don't know about you, but first things first when I wake up, I want a beverage. I'm not a coffee drinker, but I do have friends who say they like to put cinnamon in their coffee.

But for me, I like to go caffeine-free first thing in the morning, and especially in the wintertime, there's nothing more comforting than a bowl of warmed milk. In a medium pot, I like to dry toast my spices until I can smell their fragrance coming off, and then I pour in some milk, add in some sugar, stir it until it starts to steam and billow just a little bit, and that's that. So simple, so delicious. (WHISPERING) Do you like it?

- Yeah.

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JUNE XIE: If after my milk I decide I'm still pretty hungry and I'm ready for breakfast, Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal it is. For my apples, I take a small pot, I plop in a little bit of butter, I throw in my apples, I go in with a little bit of brown sugar, a bit of cinnamon, a tad of salt, and I just let it stir, stir, stir, cook, cook, cook until it's nice and saucy and glossy and jammy looking.

I set it aside, and I start on my oats. For my oatmeal, I like to toast the oats first in the pan. When you're toasting your oats, you want to make sure you're constantly flipping, tossing, mixing them so that no single grain of oat is going to get burnt. We want them all evenly golden and toasty.

And then I go in with a little bit of flax seeds and wheat bran, you know, for added health. And then we go in with our milk and water.

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A little pinch of salt and optionally, raisins. I know, controversial. I like them. If you don't, (WHISPERING) leave them out. Towards the end of the cooking, I like to fold in my cooked apples, and then we can top with a little bit more brown sugar to taste. I love this oatmeal because you have cinnamon in the apples and you have cinnamon and the oats and you really can't miss out on that cinnamon at all.

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Sweet, spicy, fruity, hearty, nutritious, delicious. For lunch, how about a nice, hearty chili? And if you're thinking, cinnamon and chili? I say yes. Why not? If you've ever heard of a dish called Cincinnati chili-- which actually isn't a chili at all-- you'd know that Cincinnati chili has cinnamon, along with lots of other spices in there.

It's often piled on top of spaghetti or on top of hot dogs, and it is a sauce unto itself. Not necessarily served in a bowl, but you know what? Today, I'm going to have some chili in a bowl. And I'm going to put a little bit of cinnamon in it. Inspired by Cincinnati chili.

In a large pot, I'm going to add a little bit of olive oil, going with a little bit of onion, a little bit of garlic. We're going to stir, stir, stir those around, and then we're going to go in with our spices. That includes some allspice, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon, and we're going to go in with a little bit of fennel seeds of black pepper as well.

I also like the slight funk of white pepper, so a dash of that. And then we'll go in with our tomato products. I have some leftover tomato sauce in my fridge that I need to get rid of. I'm going to squirt in some ketchup in there for that sweet, tart, salty combo. Then we'll go in with some canned tomatoes, as well as a little bit of sriracha for that spicy kick.

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Then you'll go in with about 3 cups of protein. Whatever you want, put it in there. I don't care. Just make yourself happy. If you like your chili a little bit looser, go in with some broth of any kind and just give it a stir and wait for everything to get nice and cozy.

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All of the warming spices give this chili a super, super comforting feel. Chili is already pretty comforting, but this-- this just takes it up a notch. And if you feel like you didn't get enough cinnamon in there, well, just sprinkle some on. See if you can taste the difference in this chili.

- The difference is cinnamon, isn't it? I knew that already.

JUNE XIE: Do you want more cinnamon on top?

- No.

JUNE XIE: Are you sure?

- Yeah.

JUNE XIE: OK.

- It's a really exciting flavor, June. Excellent work.

JUNE XIE: I love it. Spicy, earthy, sweet, and slightly floral. This chili is really definitely different. As with all chilies and stews, the best thing about this is it's even better the day after. I hope you are still on the cinnamon train with me, because we're going to go into dinner right now with some cinnamon rice and cinnamon chicken.

Because Chinese five spice powder often has cinnamon in it already, I thought it would be a great idea to up that cinnamon content in our five spice and rub some chicken legs with it. So for the chicken in a large bowl, we're going to mix together some five spice, some extra cinnamon. We're going to go in with some onion powder, garlic powder, and baking powder. Baking powder kind of makes your chicken skin crisp up a little bit more when it contacts heat.

Once that's all mixed, go in with a little bit of soy sauce, a little bit of rice wine vinegar, along with some brown sugar and a drizzle of sesame oil. Give it a nice good stir until everything's good, and then toss in your bone-in, skin-on chicken legs. Let those drumsticks get nice and coated, and then let it rest.

Let those flavors soak into that meat. Meanwhile, on the stovetop, we're going to start our cinnamon rice. In your rice pot, go in with a tablespoon of olive oil, throw in a stick of cinnamon in there, and let it get nice and toasty. Then we're going to go in with a little bit of Sichuan peppercorns, a little bit of black pepper, white pepper, as well as cumin seeds.

We're going to let those toasts very briefly before going in with our ginger, minced, and garlic. As soon as your ginger and garlic turn a little bit golden, we're going to toss in our rice. We're going to let that rice get slightly, slightly golden.

If you're watching your sodium intake, don't do this. But I like to go in with a little bit of both kosher salt and MSG. And then we'll hit it with our water. Bring it up to a simmer, slap a lid on it, turn your heat to low, and then walk away for about 15 to 17 minutes.

We're going to chop up some onions, maybe a little bit of carrots. Whatever vegetables you got hanging around, we're going to throw it into a cast iron, oven-safe pan. And we're going to nestle our chicken legs in there. Preheat the oven to 375, and we're going to slide those babies in there until they're done.

Midway through the bake, give your chicken legs a little tossy-toss in the pan. If it looks a little dry, go ahead and add a little touch of oil so that they get nice and glazy. And just make sure that you're coating them super well in that remaining sauce that's on the pan.

Give your vegetables a toss as well, and put it back into the oven to finish cooking. For the last five minutes of cooking, I really like to blast that oven up to 450 just so that that skin can get a little bit crispier.

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I mean, I don't know about you, but this looks mighty good to me. And it smells mighty good too. The juices of the marinade and the chicken fat commingling with the cumin and the cinnamon and all of our spices in the rice. As for the veggies, super saucy, super fragrant. (WHISPERING) Let's see. Super tender.

Oh my glorious. Oh my goodness. Check out how juicy that is. It just dripped all over my floor. It is perfect. Perfectly spiced, perfectly tender, perfectly juicy. Will you look like an absolute mess eating it? Yes. Is it worth it?

And finally, if you're still hungry, you can have some snacky desserts. How about some cinnamon sugar sweet potato chips? This dessert is as easy as it gets. You take any sweet potato that you want, peel or no peel, slice them as thin and evenly as you can, lay them out on a sheet tray, and then we're going to brush them with a little bit of butter.

Once they're all brushed, we're going to take a small bowl and we're going to mix a little bit of sugar with a little bit of cinnamon. And then we're going to sprinkle them onto these chips to be. We're going to slide the whole tray into a 350 degree oven. And we're going to let them bake until they're nice and golden and slightly crispy.

In case some of your chips are thicker than others, some may not be crispy while others are close to burning. So just be sure that you're picking them off the tray as they're done. If you like it on the sweet side, as they come out, put a little extra cinnamon sugar while they're still hot and give them a nice little toss.

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You might want to be careful, these are very addictive.

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- Oh, I love that.

JUNE XIE: You can have it all.

- Bye.

JUNE XIE: Thank you so much for tuning in. I hope you enjoyed watching all the ways in which you can use cinnamon. And I hope you go and explore and find out which type of cinnamon is your favorite for different kinds of recipes. Until next time, stay hydrated, and let me know what spice you want to see next.

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