WTF is Cassia Bark?
This stuff is literally bark from a Cassia tree, native to Southeast Asia. The tree’s latim name is cinnamomum aromaticum so you can maybe guess it’s got something to do with cinnamon. The tree is in the same family as the actual cinnamon tree (cinnamomum verum) so there’s some similarities, but keep in mind the differences as well.
Like cinnamon, it’s sold in whole or powdered form. Sometimes cassia powder is labelled “cinnamon” even, but in Toronto I’ve actually never seen it sold as a powder, but only bags of bark pieces 1-3 inches in length. Whole cassia bark is sold in Little India markets, but I bought mine from Loblaws, so it’s not unusually rare. I used to live by the Loblaws at St. Clair and Bathurst and they did have a surprisingly well-stocked Indian section of spices, legumes, flours and specialty products. I have to assume then, that cassia bark can be found other places.
So what’s the difference? Well, it depends on who you are, I guess. Cassia bark is darker than cinnamon, and the taste is somewhat stronger and harsher, but on the surface, the smell is very similar to cinnamon. You may not notice any difference at all unless you tasted them side-by-side and can safely use cassia in cinnamon-situations. This is one of those things you might insist on if you’re shooting for accuracy of flavour, rather than just flavour. Substituting an equal length of whole cinnamon stick in place of a strip of cassia bark probably won’t result in any substantial difference.
But then you will lose out on the opportunity to point out that you used cassia bark instead of cinnamon. It will cost you hipster-foodie points.