Is Cassia Really Cinnamon?

October 30, 2017 posted in Behind the Scenes

Yes! Cassia is a variety of cinnamon as previously explained in our “Cinnamon Facts” Blog.

Chinese cassia, Batavia or Indonesian cassia, and Saigon or Vietnamese cassia are harvested in a different manner from Sri Lankan cinnamon. Various cassia botanical names are (Cinnamomum cassia, C. burmannii, C. lourerii and C. tamala) and many years ago was called Saigon Cinnamon in the USA, and  Dutch Cinnamon, Baker’s Cinnamon, Bastard Cinnamon and Batavia Cinnamon in many other countries.

With cassia, the trees are stripped of bark at the beginning of the rainy season, when it is easiest to remove. This process begins by scraping the lower trunk with a small knife to remove moss and the outer cork. The bark is then cut off in sections, the tree felled and remaining bark removed in the same way. These trees are grown in cassia forest plantations, and each tree is usually harvested when it is less than ten years old.

This means that a well-stocked nursery of seedlings is essential to maintain production. Cassia trees are grown from seeds gathered from under the trees, an interesting observation being that the best seeds for germination have passed through the intestines of birds which ate the small green fruits. In Southern China the bitter outer material is scraped off after removing the bark from the tree, after which it is dried in the sun where it curls into thick-scrolled quills that are often confused with cinnamon.

Cassia buds, which are sometimes used in sweet pickles, are the dried immature fruits, usually from Chinese cassia, which have a cinnamon-like fragrance and warm, pungent aroma. As the demand for cassia buds has never appeared to be strong, only a few trees in a plantation are generally left undisturbed to produce them.

In some countries, such as Australia and England, it has been illegal to sell cassia as cinnamon (even though many merchants do), whereas in France one word, canelle, refers to both cinnamon and cassia. In the United States there are no restrictions on the naming of cinnamon and cassia; cinnamon is the name used most often to describe both.

Ground cassia, is produced by grinding high quality cassia chips with no corky bark.

The highest quality ground cassia is an extremely fine, highly aromatic powder.

Many pastry cooks and people familiar with the aromatic pungency of cassia prefer it to Sri Lankan cinnamon. Cinnamon and cassia are not easy to grind yourself, so if a recipe calls for ground cinnamon or cassia, buying a good-quality powder is recommended. As the most pleasing, fragrant, volatile top notes will evaporate easily, it is most important to store ground cinnamon and cassia in an airtight container protected from extremes of heat and humidity.

Whole cassia bark is relatively stable and will keep for two to three years as long as it is not exposed to extreme heat.

Spiced Duck Breast with Cassia Glaze
Serves 4

  • 4 duck breasts, skin on
  • 1 tbsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 2 bunches choy sum (Chinese flowering cabbage), trimmed and washed, to serve
  • 1 tbsp light soy
  • 5 tbsp soft brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp cabernet sauvignon or red wine vinegar
  • 3 tsp dried sultanas
  • 3 tsp orange juice
  • ¾ tsp ground cassia
  1. Coat duck breasts in Chinese Five Spice  and rest for at least an hour.
  2. Heat a frying pan to medium-high heat and place duck breasts in pan skin side down and lower heat (no oil needed because of the fat in the skin).
  3. Cook for 10 minutes, until the skin has rendered down, then turn over and cook for a further 10 minutes, covering the pan with foil.
  4. Remove to a chopping board and keep covered with foil for another 5 minutes, reserving 1 tbsp pan fat.  The duck breast should be medium-rare when served.  If you like it well-done, then cook for another 5 minutes in the pan.
  5. For glaze, combine all ingredients in a saucepan over low heat and stir until sugar dissolves and mixture thickens.  Remove from heat.
  6. Using 1 tbsp of the pan fat, sauté the choy sum until wilted and add light soy sauce.
  7. Brush glaze over skin side of duck breasts and cut on the diagonal into 4 or 5 pieces (depending on size).
  8. Serve on choy sum.

For comprehensive information, plus recipes, on Cinnamon & Cassia plus many more culinary herbs, spices and spice blends, look for The Spice & Herb Bible 3rd Edition by Ian Hemphill with recipes by Kate Hemphill.

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