The Very Best Cinnamon

In last week’s column I mentioned that 250 species of cinnamon grow around the world and I thought about cinnamon all week. There are two in my spice collection: Vietnamese and Chinese Tung Hing. Vietnamese is hot, sweet, and potent; it’s the flavor in red hot candy. Tung Hing is extra sweet and pungent. Now I was curious. Which one of those 250 species is the best culinary cinnamon on planet earth? The one that stands out because it has such awesome flavor all the other cinnamons pale in comparison. The Supreme Grand Champion of cinnamon ‒ the stuff that makes epic apple pies, cinnamon rolls, and pumpkin spice lattes. Where on earth is that cinnamon?

My sojourn started with a short lesson on the geography of cinnamon and how it grows. It’s a tropical and sub-tropical plant, grown in ten countries. Indonesia, China, Vietnam, and Sri Lanka grow most of it. It grows in the United States in warm climates. In 2020, the world produced 222,122 tons (please remember that random fact if you ever are a guest on jeopardy). Cinnamon grows as a tall evergreen tree or a small shrub. To make cinnamon, farmers shave off the outer bark and harvest the tender inner bark. Cinnamon naturally curls up into quills as it dries. Those quills are then cut into sticks and crushed into powder and chips, or pressed for oil.

I went down the rabbit hole as I continued on  my quest. You know how it goes: you read one website and then the next and all roads eventually lead to  . . .  Amazon. And the winner is — Alba cinnamon from Ceylon. This rare cinnamon is the topmost grade and smoothest cinnamon in the world noted for its spicy, citrus, and floral flavors. I ordered a package of “Ceylon’s Finest True Alba Cinnamon 5 Inch Long Quills, Harvested in 2022.”

While waiting for this package to arrive I did a cinnamon sampling. I put equal amounts of vanilla ice cream in separate dishes and sprinkled the Vietnamese cinnamon from my spice cabinet on one and Tung Hing on the other. The warmth of the cinnamon and the cool creaminess of the ice cream were a perfect pair and I had ice cream for lunch three days in a row (please don’t tell anyone). The flavor differences were subtle yet distinctive.

I am so excited to get my new cinnamon! Freshly grated, world class Alba cinnamon sprinkled over vanilla ice cream for dessert anyone? Add a drizzle of dark chocolate syrup and chopped pecans and the experience may just well be over the top. Ah, life is good, isn’t it? Stay tuned for the next episode!