Cinnamon is everywhere, from chewing gum to Christmas candles. And as with gum and candles, cinnamon is valued for its taste and for its smell. But despite its widespread use, few kitchens understand the difference in quality, taste, and biology between the many different plants known as “cinnamon.”

The cinnamon widely available in stores comes in a few main varieties. These are Cassia Cinnamon, Ceylon Cinnamon, Saigon Cinnamon, and Korintje Cinnamon. While all of these share the genus cinnamomum, each comes from very different parts of the world. Cassia is originally from China. Ceylon, despite its “Mexican cinnamon” nickname, travels all the way from Sri Lanka (to Mexico, who then exports it). Saigon Cinnamon grows in Vietnam and Korintje comes from Indonesia. And it is Korintje that cooks are most likely to find in their kitchen.

Korintje, also known as Cinnamomum Burmanni, or Padang Cinnamon, is one of the most inexpensive cinnamon species grown commercially–at least when compared with Ceylon, which must be hand picked. Korintje cinnamon thrives in humid, hot environments. The spice itself comes from the bark of the trees, though the leaves are also strongly aromatic. It is a dark red-brown, and when dried, curls into a single layered roll. In contrast, one of the reasons why Ceylon is hand-picked is so harvesters can dry it in multiple layers. After drying, cinnamon can be ground or sold as-is, depending on its intended use.

Cinnamon has many uses. It can steeped in drinks, wines, and teas. It can be added to both sweet and savory dishes and can be used in oils or in ointments. Both its smell and flavor are distinct and sharp.

For many people, cinnamon is associated with the holidays and a sense of home. But if given the chance, would they know the difference between a Chinese cinnamon and one from Sri Lanka? Does it matter? Maybe. That could be what helps make the spice so ubiquitous–find out more with The Spice Academy!