International cooking for the youthful malcontent.

WTF is Cassia Bark?

Cassia Bark

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.

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3 responses

  1. Pingback: Recipe: Kheema Mattar « No More Microwaves

  2. Pingback: Recipe: Chai Spices « No More Microwaves

  3. iLLogicaL

    Hey Jeff,

    Great blog man. I hate to cut and paste, but this is from Cook’s Illustrated and you need a subscription to get at it. It basically explains that Americans eat Cassia as cinnamon, while the rest of the world uses Ceylon. Kinda figures. Anyway, this is an excerpt, if you’d like to read the whole thing (which compares flavors and whatnot), just email me.

    From Cook’s Illustrated:

    “In virtually every other part of the globe, “cinnamon” means Ceylon cinnamon; in the United States, we are accustomed to the bolder, spicier flavor of a species known as cassia (also called bastard cinnamon). Both types derive from the bark of tropical evergreens in the Cinnamomum genus. Ceylon (Cinnamomum verum) is grown primarily in Sri Lanka, while cassia (Cinnamomum cassia, among others) may be grown in Indonesia, China, and Vietnam. American traders turned to importing cassia in the early 20th century following a rise in the price of the Ceylon spice, and it continues to be the main variety sold in supermarkets in this country.

    Harvesting cinnamon entails stripping the exterior bark and then scraping its interior into strips, or quills, which are sun-dried and ground. Older trees contain the most oils and presumably yield the sharpest spice. “Saigon” cassia cinnamon from Vietnam is usually harvested from 20- to 25-year-old trees of a species containing the most volatile oil of any cinnamon on the market—often more than 3 percent of the total weight of the quill. Indonesian, or Korintji, cinnamon and Chinese cinnamon are harvested from trees younger than 10 years and contain less volatile oil. In cassia trees, the oldest bark, near the base of the trunk, is considered best; bark from the middle of the trunk is of moderate worth, and bark from the top and the branches is regarded as the lowest in quality.”

    January 7, 2010 at 1:16 pm

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