What’s the Difference Between Cinnamon and Cassia?

by Maureen on December 31, 2013

Ian and Liz Hemphill from Herbie's SpicesThe first time I used cassia was at a local cooking class and I was told that it was similar to cinnamon and was preferred by many chefs.  It was nicknamed ‘bakers cinnamon’ and was milder than ordinary cinnamon according to the chef giving the class.

Imagine my surprise when I received information from Ian ‘Herbie’ Hemphill, the spice guru behind Herbie’s Spices, telling me that I had it all wrong.

Ian grew up with herbs and spices.  His parents owned a spice and herb company and even in high school he got the nickname ‘Herbie’ because of that.  No wonder when he started his own herb and spice company that he took his nickname for a company name.

He and his wife Liz have been traveling the world to source the best spices for their customers and then coming home to teach the best ways to use them.  They know that if home cooks like me use herbs and spices well, their business will grow.  It certainly has been a strategy that has worked for the busy couple.

The Spice and Herb Bible by Ian HemphillIan is the author of the wildly popular Spice and Herb Bible.  I have a copy and seriously, if you want to kick your cooking up a notch (or ten) get a spice book.  I have nothing but good things to say about it.

So what IS the difference between Cinnamon and Cassia?

While they both come from tropical evergreen trees related to the bay laurel, avocado and sassafras cinnamon and cassia are distinctly different in appearance and flavour profile.  Where one of the major differences lies between these two spices is in the quills.  Cinnamon quills are most often seen in 8cm lengths of many concentric layers of paper thin bark, rolled into cylinders like small cigars and are about 1cm in diameter.

Cassia bark by contrast, is generally found in two whole forms. One is flat pieces of dark brown slivers 10-20 cm long and 2-3 cm wide, smooth on one surface and rough and corky on the other. In quill form, they are smooth and can look similar to 8cm cinnamon quills, with the exception being a single scroll of bark that is also thicker.

Ian said, “Cinnamon has a mild and gentle sweetness that goes well with other light flavors. I use cinnamon to spice porridge or fresh fruits in syrup, such as pears, mangoes and
bananas. Cassia is stronger and sharper than cinnamon with a warm spicy background note. I use cassia in baked goods like muffins (hence the common name for it of baker’s
cinnamon) and with other strong spices such as star anise and licorice.”

Cinnamon is said to be among the oldest of spices, with references going back 2500 years to the land of the pharaohs. Even then it was noted that there was often confusion between Cinnamon and Cassia.

In some countries, including Australia, it has been illegal in the past to sell cassia as cinnamon, however the regulators have really given up on this one.

From Ian, “The best quality cinnamon Cinnamomum zeylanicum usually comes from its native Sri Lanka. Ground cinnamon is light brown, and should be quite fine with no detectable
coarseness. Some of the best cassia is from its native Vietnam and Indonesia, the colour of the powder is a dark reddish-brown and the aroma is highly aromatic.”

The versatility of these two spices, allows them to be used in both sweet and savoury dishes, however, it is important to note that cassia is more strongly perfumed and pungent than cinnamon, so it is best used with other distinctly flavoured ingredients such as strong spices and dried fruits.

Finally, Ian said, “These are both wonderful spices, however they are DIFFERENT and in my opinion should always be labelled so.”

So there you have it.  I do use cassia in my baking and all this time I thought I was using it because it was milder and in fact I had it the wrong way around.  Have you ever got your spices in a twist like that?

Easy Cinnamon Scrolls

Over the holidays I had sheets of puff pastry left over from this and that and I couldn’t bear to toss them out.  I spread the sheets with butter and then sprinkled a mixture of cassia and sugar over that and then rolled them up.   I had a bright idea of putting them in a silicone mini muffin tray and it worked great.

Easy Cinnamon Scrolls

I put them on the table when we had friends drop by and not a one was left.  This is not an orgasmic recipe but it’s definitely a way to get sometime on a plate in next to no time at all and everyone enjoyed them.  One woman said that her grandmother had made these with her when she was  young and she couldn’t keep away from them.  I know just how she feels.

Easy Puff Pastry Cinnamon Scrolls

I hope you have a terrific New Year’s Eve.  It’s afternoon here and it won’t be long before it’s time for fireworks.  We can see them from our balcony so we’ll have a few friends, a glass of bubbly and a nice welcome to 2014.

p.s. This is not a sponsored post.  I just love Herbie’s Spices.  I’ve never been disappointed with the quality and the company is owned by people who put customer satisfaction ahead of the almighty dollar.  Rare, these days.

 

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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella December 31, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Isn’t that interesting! I use cassia bark in Pho but I usually use cinnamon in baked goods. I must give it a go!

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Joanne T Ferguson December 31, 2013 at 3:49 pm

G’day Thanks Maureen! Very informative and always enjoy learning something new!
I LOVE Herbie’s spices and never need an excuse to purchase them too!
This book would be any foodies’s spice dream! :)
Cheers! Joanne

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Lizzy (Good Things) December 31, 2013 at 4:06 pm

Dearest Maureen, firstly, may I please have one of those scrolls right now! Secondly, I love Herbie and Liz and their spices too…. Herbie is such a font of knowledge and so nice as well. Happy happy happy new year to you, lovely one!

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Cass @foodmyfriend December 31, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Thank you for this! I always wonder. I grind my own cinnamon bark :) Happy New Year!

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Maureen December 31, 2013 at 6:12 pm

Cass, you are a spice lover’s treasure! Happy New Year to you too!

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Kari @ bite-sized thoughts December 31, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I am clearly an ignoramus as I’d never heard of cassia! Thanks for educating me Maureen :)
Kari @ bite-sized thoughts recently posted..Jamie Oliver inspired watermelon and noodle salad

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Bam's Kitchen December 31, 2013 at 7:12 pm

These are gorgeous little rolls! I wanted to pin them but it says that your image is too small. I guess I must have been living on some other planet as this is the first time I have ever heard of cassia before but it looks like a delicious way to intensify those lovely flavors. Wishing you and your family a very happy New Year. Take care, BAM

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Maureen January 1, 2014 at 4:19 pm

weird, my photos aren’t smaller than normal but maybe you have Pinterest set up for less than 600 pixels wide? Or maybe the page hadn’t fully loaded before you hit pin? Anyway, thanks a lot for trying and Happy New Year!

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ChgoJohn December 31, 2013 at 7:54 pm

I’m not much of a baker and have never heard of cassia, Maureen, so, this post was very interesting for me. Thanks for the introduction and lesson. :)
Hope your New Year is one of Happiness and Peace.
ChgoJohn recently posted..Two Cellos and a Cherry to Toast the New Year

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Hester @ Alchemy in the Kitchen December 31, 2013 at 10:40 pm

It’s a question I have asked myself in the past but never got around to answering, so thanks Maureen and Herbie!

Love the quick cinnamon, sorry cassia rolls.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy New Year and the very best for 2014.

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SallyBR December 31, 2013 at 11:58 pm

Great post, what an interesting book!

I buy almost all my spices from either Penzey’s or Spice House, and they do make a distinction between all types of cinnamon – I love the Vietnamese cinnamon sold by Penzey’s, but usually I have at least two kinds hanging around in the pantry. I normally don’t buy the whole sticks, not sure why, as they can come in handy

I guess you are already in 2014… fireworks and all! ENJOY!

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Purabi Naha | Cosmopolitan Currymania January 1, 2014 at 12:15 am

Wonderful comparison between cassia and cinnamon. I love spices too and so, loved reading your post. Wish you a very happy and prosperous new year! :)

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Helene D'Souza January 1, 2014 at 12:16 am

I was about to write cinnamon rolls,… lol what a habit!
Ok I did not know all that about cassia and cinnamon and guess what i am more confused then ever. Back in the spice garden, we were told that bay leaf tree and cinnamon are the same plant. We even cut bark pieces which smelled absolutely cinammony and picked bay leafs from the same tree. Also I just did that in a friends house the other day. So are the Indians just throwing all those plant types into one bucket again or what’s going on? I wish I could taste casssia and cinnamon side by side because otherwise I won’t see the difference.
Helene D’Souza recently posted..New Year’s Eve Appetizers – Amuse Bouche & Bite Sized Hors d’Oeuvres Recipes

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The Café Sucre Farine January 1, 2014 at 1:23 am

I had no idea of the difference between these two. For a long time I thought that cinnamon was just cinnamon and then I learned there was a huge difference but I didn’t understand it all – till now! Thanks Maureen!

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Katy January 1, 2014 at 1:35 am

Very informative post! I only recently discovered there was more than one type of cinnamon, it’s amazing how many spices are out there and all their uses!

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Maureen January 1, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Hi Katy, thanks so much for coming to visit. I hope 2014 is a terrific year for you and your blog!

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cquek January 1, 2014 at 2:21 am

Happy New Year to you. Wish this year brings to the warmth of love and olluminates your path of life towards a positive direction

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John@Kitchen Riffs January 1, 2014 at 2:33 am

Really interesting! I have a feeling I’ve been using a lot of cassia, thinking it was cinnamon. I like cinnamon/cassia in savory dishes, where a stronger flavor is a virtue. Clearly I need to do some research to see what I’m actually buying! Herbie’s sounds like a great company. Happy New Year!
John@Kitchen Riffs recently posted..Crab Rangoon Dip

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yummychunklet January 1, 2014 at 3:35 am

Happy New Year!

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Ramona January 1, 2014 at 4:07 am

I cook with both cassia and cinnamon. Sri Lanka is known for some of the world’s best cinnamon so that makes me very happy that I have access to it (when relatives come to visit). :) This was a very interesting read. Wishing you and your family a happy, healthy and wonderful New Year 2014!! Thank you for your friendship. :)

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A_Boleyn January 1, 2014 at 4:59 am

As an earlier poster commented, I suspect I’ve used cassia thinking it was cinnamon as well due to mislabelling whether it was deliberate or not on the part of the seller/packager. The tasty pastry puff treats are something I’ve made as well though mine were never that pretty.
A_Boleyn recently posted..I is for Ice Cream (Eggnog)

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Mary Frances January 1, 2014 at 5:50 am

Thank you for the education here. I had no idea!

Happy New Year to you Maureen and your entire family – Health, Wealth, Peace and LOVE
Mary Frances recently posted..Carrot Ginger Soup – Perfect to Start New Year’s Eve Dinner

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Roberta January 1, 2014 at 7:06 am

Wishing you and your entire family the Happiest of New Years.

Now if you could just manage to get two dozen of those sugar rolls to me before midnight here, or soon there after, I would have the best year ever. :)

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Karen (Back Road Journal) January 1, 2014 at 8:03 am

Such an interesting post…I have never seen cassia in any of the stores in my area. Wishing you and your family all the best for the New Year.
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Pamela @ Brooklyn Farm Girl January 1, 2014 at 10:19 am

Happy New Year, lots of good luck and cheer to you and your family!

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Deb January 1, 2014 at 10:51 am

I have heard of cassia but have never seen or used it my baking. After reading your informative post I want to get baking with this new-to-me spice! Fragrant and spicy cassia sounds divine! Happy New Year Maureen!

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Layla @ Brunch Time Baker January 1, 2014 at 11:37 am

Maureen this is such a great post! I learned so much! I love cinnamon, I throw it in just about everything I bake :D!! Have a Happy Healthy New Year!!

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Liz January 1, 2014 at 12:48 pm

I finally learned the difference between the two “cinnamons” this year, too. I’ve been using mostly cassia for years and years. Happy New Year!!! Two more hours of 2013 here :)

PS…your pastries look divine!!!

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Eha January 1, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Happy New Year to you and yours ~ good health above all and to all!! More or less knew this, especially how each looked, but the explanation surely will be filed for careful perusal later . . .

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nancy@jamjnr.com January 1, 2014 at 3:30 pm

I just assumed they were the same thing, just different names like cilantro and coriander. Your pastries look amazing – Happy New Year Maureen.

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unikorna January 1, 2014 at 9:41 pm

A Happy new Year , lovely friend :). Kissessssssss.
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Hotly Spiced January 2, 2014 at 5:37 am

I buy Herbies all the time – love to support Aussie businesses. I just discovered they sell pomegranate molasses; my newest most favourite ingredient. It was Spirit House that sorted out cassia/cinnamon for me. Thai cooking always uses cassia and so I’ve been buying it from Asian supermarkets and it does present differently. I love how you didn’t let your leftover pastry sheets go to waste and what a beautiful result. No wonder there weren’t any leftover xx

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Claire @ Simply Sweet Justice January 2, 2014 at 1:33 pm

I’ve always wondered the difference, so I started the year off learning something new. Your puff pastry treat looks yummy!

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mjskit January 3, 2014 at 2:52 pm

Very interesting post Maureen! I didn’t know the difference. In fact, even though I’ve heard of cassia, I’ve never used it. Now I’m very curious about it. I love trying out new spices and small wonderful spice shops are such a great source to have around!!
mjskit recently posted..Red Chile Chicken Tamales

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