C. aromaticum (formerly C. cassia), cassia or Chinese cinnamon, is a small evergreen tropical tree in the Lauraceae (laurel family), native to Myanmar but now widely cultivated in southeast Asia (including China and Vietnam) for the production of the spice and essential oil obtained from its inner bark and young shoots. Although the name “cinnamon” more properly refers to the related species, C. verum (“true” or Ceylon cinnamon), as well as several other Cinnamomum species, cassia--which has a stronger flavor but is less expensive--accounts for the largest share of the spice marketed as “cinnamon” in the U.S.
The names “cinnamon” and “cassia” cause considerable confusion, as they are often used interchangeably. In the U.S., the spice produced from the dried, ground bark of any of these species is referred to as “cinnamon,” without distinguishing among species. In addition, “cinnamon” may also refer to the spice obtained from the aromatic bark of an unrelated species, Canella winterana (in the Canellaceae).
The cassia tree grows to around 12 m (40 ft) in height, and has leathery alternate to sub-opposite to opposite leaves, oblong to lanceolate, up to 10 cm (6 in) long, with a long acuminate tip (tapering to a point). Bark, branches, and leaves all contain aromatic compounds. The small white flowers are either unisexual or bisexual (perfect), and generally occur in axillary panicles (clusters that grow where leave join to branches). The fruit is a small, fleshy berry, about 1 cm (0.25 in) long, that ripens to dark purple, partly surrounded by a cup-like perianth (developed from the outer parts of the flower).
The spice form of cassia is obtained by removing the outer bark of the tree, and scraping from it the inner bark, which is dried and ground into power. Cultivated trees may also be coppiced (cut back to encourage shoot development), so that the coppiced shoots can be harvested. Buds are also used. Cassia oil is steam distilled from the leaves and twigs.
Cassia and other forms of cinnamon have been used since ancient times (noted in Sanskrit texts and in the Bible, as well as in accounts by Herodotus and Pliny) for their sweet and somewhat spicy flavor. It is widely used to flavor baked goods, puddings and other desserts, and candies, as well as soups and stews, curries, meat and poultry dishes, and pickles. Cassia is also used to flavor beverages, including teas and mulled wine. The buds, which look similar to cloves (Syzygium aromaticum), are used in pickles, marinades, and teas.
FAO estimates that total commercial production of all forms of cinnamon (derived from several species of Cinnamomum, including C. aromaticum, as well as canella (Canella winterana) was 155,000 metric tons, harvested from 186,000 hectares. China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam together produced around 98% of the world’s total.
(Bailey et al. 1976, FAO 2012, Flora of China 2012, Hedrick 1919, van Wyk 2005.)
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- FAOSTAT. 2012. Searchable online statistical database from Food and Agriculture Division of the United Nations. Retrieved 21 June 2012 from http://faostat.fao.org/site/567/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=567#ancor.
- Flora of China. 2012. 10. CINNAMOMUM Schaeffer, Bot. Exped. 74. 1760, nom. cons. Flora of China 7: 166–187. Available online: http://flora.huh.harvard.edu/china/PDF/PDF07/Cinnamomum.pdf.
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Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Cinnamomum aromaticum
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cinnamomum aromaticum
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
Cinnamomum cassia, called Chinese cassia or Chinese cinnamon, is an evergreen tree originating in southern China, and widely cultivated there and elsewhere in southern and eastern Asia (India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam). It is one of several species of Cinnamomum used primarily for their aromatic bark, which is used as a spice. In the United States, Chinese cassia is often sold under the culinary name of "cinnamon". The buds are also used as a spice, especially in India, and were once used by the ancient Romans.
The tree grows to 10–15 m tall, with greyish bark and hard, elongated leaves that are 10–15 cm long and have a decidedly reddish colour when young.
Production and uses
Chinese cassia is a close relative to Ceylon cinnamon (C. verum), Saigon cinnamon (C. loureiroi, also known as "Vietnamese cinnamon"), and Indonesian cinnamon (C. burmannii). In all four species, the dried bark is used as a spice. Chinese cassia's flavour is less delicate than that of Ceylon cinnamon, so is less expensive and is sometimes called "bastard cinnamon". Its bark is thicker, more difficult to crush, and has a rougher texture than that of Ceylon cinnamon.
Most of the spice sold as cinnamon in the United States, United Kingdom, and India is Chinese cinnamon. The more expensive Ceylon cinnamon is preferred in Mexico and Oceania. "Indonesian cinnamon" (C. burmannii) is also commonly sold in the United States, where it is labeled only as cinnamon.
Chinese cassia is produced in both China and Vietnam. Until the 1960s, Vietnam was the world's most important producer of Saigon cinnamon, which has a higher oil content, and consequently has a stronger flavor. Saigon cinnamon is so closely related to Chinese cassia, it was often marketed as cassia although it commands a higher price if correctly labelled. Because of the disruption caused by the Vietnam War, however, production of Indonesian cassia in the highlands of the Indonesia island of Sumatra was increased to meet demand. Indonesian cassia has the lowest oil content of the three types of cassia, so commands the lowest price. Saigon cinnamon has only become available again since the early 21st century. Chinese cassia has a sweeter flavor than Indonesian cassia, similar to Saigon cinnamon, but with lower oil content.
Cassia bark (both powdered and in whole, or "stick" form) is used as a flavouring agent for confectionery, desserts, pastries, and meat; it is specified in many curry recipes, where Ceylon cinnamon is less suitable. Cassia is sometimes added to Ceylon cinnamon, but is a much thicker, coarser product. Cassia is sold as pieces of bark (as pictured below) or as neat quills or sticks. Cassia sticks can be distinguished from Ceylon cinnamon sticks in this manner: Ceylon cinnamon sticks have many thin layers and can easily be made into powder using a coffee or spice grinder, whereas cassia sticks are extremely hard and are usually made up of one thick layer.
Cassia buds, although rare, are also occasionally used as a spice. They resemble cloves in appearance and have a mild, flowery cinnamon flavor. Cassia buds are primarily used in old-fashioned pickling recipes, marinades, and teas.
Health benefits and risks
Chinese cassia (called ròu gùi; 肉桂 in Chinese) is produced primarily in the southern provinces of Guangxi, Guangdong, and Yunnan. It is considered one of the 50 fundamental herbs in traditional Chinese medicine.
Due to a toxic component called coumarin, which can damage the liver, European health agencies have warned against consuming high amounts of cassia. Other possible toxins founds in the bark/powder are cinnamaldehyde and styrene.
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