Types of Cinnamon You Need for Baking and Beyond
What types of cinnamon are best for your bakes? We asked a spice expert what makes one cinnamon different from another (and why you want a variety in your spice rack).
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When it comes to baking—fall and holiday baking especially—cinnamon is an essential part of favorite recipes. What would a homey cinnamon roll be without some warming spices? What would gingerbread be without the cinnamon to compliment the ginger? However, when we bakers head to our favorite spice shop, it can be hard to decide which types of cinnamon are really best for these bakes. Cassia? Ceylon? Ground cinnamon? Cinnamon sticks?
To get to the bottom of what makes these varieties different, I chatted with Alex Wilkens, operations manager at The Spice House, to find out all the details.
The Main Types of Cinnamon
There are two main types of cinnamon in the spice world: Ceylon and cassia. Both of these options come from the bark of trees.
Ceylon cinnamon is what people consider real cinnamon (its Latin name, Cinnamomum verum, means “true cinnamon”). According to Alex, Ceylon cinnamon is grown mostly in Sri Lanka (formerly called Ceylon) and is mild in flavor.
Cassia is also cinnamon even though it’s not botanically identical to Ceylon. Just because it doesn’t carry the same Latin name of “true cinnamon” doesn’t mean it’s any less of a cinnamon varietal or inferior in quality or flavor. Cassia cinnamons are a bit spicier. You can find a few different cassia varieties. There’s Saigon (sometimes called Vietnamese) cinnamon and Korintje (or Indonesian) cinnamon. Occasionally you may find Chinese versions as well (though it’s less common).
What Do Different Types of Cinnamon Taste Like?
Because these cinnamons are grown in different locales and are different species, their flavor profiles do vary. You may find you prefer the taste of one over the rest or that one type of cinnamon works really well in certain recipes. As long as your cinnamon is fresh and high quality, you can’t go wrong.
Ceylon cinnamon is the mildest of the cinnamon options. Alex describes it as “light, floral and fruity with none of the assertiveness that cassia brings.”
Because Ceylon cinnamon isn’t as strong as its cousins, it’s a wise choice if you’re a bit sensitive to spice or are just searching for a more mellow flavor in your bakes.
Ceylon is particularly popular in European and Mexican cooking, so when you’re checking out recipes with those origins, reach for a jar of Ceylon cinnamon. Alex recommends using this variety in horchata in particular.
If you’re looking for cinnamon with a serious kick, you want Vietnamese and Saigon cinnamon. Saigon cinnamon is assertive and “bold enough to mingle with other spicy flavors like ginger, nutmeg and cloves,” says Alex.
Because of its bold flavor and sweetness, Saigon cinnamon is a great option for baking as well. Alex suggests using it in cinnamon rolls. “It will be a game-changer,” he says. “Your family and friends will definitely notice.”
If you aren’t looking for such a powerful flavor but only have this type of cinnamon on hand, don’t abandon your recipe! Alex suggests using half of what the recipe calls for so you don’t get an overwhelming cinnamon flavor.
“Not every recipe calls for tuning the cinnamon flavor up to 11,” according to Alex. That’s where you’ll want to grab Indonesian or Korintje cinnamon. This cassia cinnamon is a good middle ground between mild Ceylon and spicy Saigon.
If you’re only going to stock one cinnamon in your pantry, this is the option to grab because it’s so versatile.
When to Use Ground, Cracked and Cinnamon Sticks
In addition to the different flavors of cinnamon, you’ve also got to consider what form you want it to take. Ground cinnamon, cinnamon sticks (sometimes called quills) and cracked cinnamon “are an essential part of a well-stocked spice pantry,” according to Alex.
This is likely the form of cinnamon you’ve got in your spice rack at home, and it’s definitely the most frequently used for bakers. Use the ground cinnamon of your choice in baking recipes.
Cracked cinnamon is fragmented pieces of cinnamon sticks. Alex recommends using this form to infuse cinnamon flavor into liquids. You can steep cracked cinnamon to create syrups and custards—just strain it out with a mesh sieve. You can also use these cinnamon bark pieces to create spiced cider and mulled wine.
Cinnamon sticks last longer than their ground counterparts. Keeping a few sticks in the cupboard is a great insurance policy. According to Alex, “you won’t regret having a cinnamon stick or two stashed in the pantry and ready for action.” You can use a food processor or even a small coffee grinder with a blade (not the burr variety) to process it down into pieces or powder.
And don’t forget the power of a cinnamon stick garnish. As Alex says, “When it comes to hot cocoa, would you really ask someone you love to stir their favorite winter treat with a regular old spoon?”
Great Cinnamon Pairings
Taste of Home
If you’re looking to add more cinnamon to your cooking and baking, look no further than natural cinnamon pairings. This spice is a great match for so many ingredients. Start with this cinnamon-pumpkin tiramisu and then explore these other options.
- Cinnamon + apple: Everyone knows what a fantastic combo this is. Tart apple and spicy cinnamon is a match made in heaven.
- Cinnamon + chiles: Alex recommends this pairing. Chiles are full of heat and cinnamon gives off some warmth as well. Next time you see chiles in a recipe, try a dash of cinnamon, too.
- Cinnamon + chocolate: Cayenne and chocolate get a lot of attention, but for those craving just a smidge of heat, cinnamon makes a great cocoa companion.
- Cinnamon + coffee: Think about your favorite cafe’s coffee bar. Chances are there’s a jar of cinnamon sitting next to the creamer. That’s because cinnamon and coffee are a natural pairing. Sprinkle it on your next latte or try this homemade cinnamon mocha.
- Cinnamon + pumpkin: Cinnamon is a major player in pumpkin spice, and it’s what gives your pumpkin pie personality! Add a teaspoon (or two) of cinnamon to your favorite pumpkin recipes.
- Cinnamon + warming spices: Bakers, you’re familiar with how well cinnamon works with all sorts of warming spices like ginger, cloves, nutmeg and even star anise. Anytime you see these spices in a recipe, know that cinnamon is also welcome at the party.
With so many uses, you’ll definitely want to stock your pantry with all kinds of cinnamons. I just snagged this cinnamon variety set and it’s been fun experimenting. Give it a go yourself!