At one time, you could search for cinnamon on the spice aisle at the grocery store and see just a plainly market bottle staring back at you. No country of origin listed, no special variety mentioned. In most stores these days, the selection looks quite a bit different, with various brands and types of cinnamon to choose from. Is there a difference between the brand that goes for $.75 per oz. and $8 per oz.? And is it worth tracking down the fancier spices even if you need to go to a mail-order catalog to do so?
In the latest issue of Cook’s Illustrated (Nov/Dec 2009), the test kitchen set out to answer these questions with a lot of cinnamon and a panel of taste-testers. Cinnamons were rated by heat, complexity and texture, in fairly plain applications (mixed into applesauce) and in baked goods. By the end of the experiment, the tasters determined that there was a clear difference in spice from brand to brand. The favorite cinnamons – which did tend towards the expensive – had complex flavors that came through distinctly even in baked goods. The “recommended with reservations” cinnamons were milder and less likely to stand out on their own in a cookie recipe. Favorites included Penzey’s Extra Fancy Vietnamese Cassia Cinnamon, Durkee Ground Cinnamon and Smith And Truslow Organic Cinnamon. The “recommended with reservations” cinnamons included many easy to find store brands, like Spice Islands Saigon Cinnamon, McCormick Gourmet Saigon Cinnamon and McCormick Ground Cinnamon.
In all cases, the freshest cinnamons performed the best. Often, these were the mail-order spices which weren’t sitting around in storage at a grocery store. You can still get the most out of your cinnamon no matter which brand you use by replacing your jar (if you don’t go through it quickly, which I tend to do) at least once each year.