…but what about the cinnamon? What is it and where does it come from? It is, in a word, bark. The inner bark of the Cinnamomum tree which first sprung up in India, but which spread (or was spread) to China and other locales. Cinnamon is harvested by breaking off the hard, outer bark of the tree, then peeling the softer, inner layer of bark away from the trunk. Of course, depending on the species of the Cinnamomum tree, that inner bark has different textures, hence the difference in the shape of different types of cinnamon sticks.
The variety most commonly found in Sri Lanka and Ceylon, C. verum, has a very thin and papery inner bark. Thus when it’s scraped it tends to curl up into a single roll, like a stick. Cassia cinnamon, the Chinese (and Vietnamese and Indonesian) variety, is thicker and harder, which gives it a distinctive scroll-like shape when it’s peeled off the tree.
Is there any taste difference between the two? Absolutely. Ceylonese cinnamon is milder, more complex and (some say) sweeter tasting, while cassia cinnamon is more intense, hotter, even “peppery”. Since many mass-market bottles of ground cinnamon tend to be of the Ceylonese variety, it’s important to remember to cut back a little should you come into a possession of a bottle of Cassia cinnamon — especially if it’s fresh. My favorite spice seller, in fact, recommends cutting the amount in half. When in doubt as to what kind of cinnamon you have, you can judge it by color. Lighter brown cinnamon is usually the Ceylon variety, while cassia cinnamons are a rich, nut brown.