Where to buy real cinnamon?
- christina z Feb 6, 2002 12:30 PM
Is there anywhere in the Flushing, Queens area that sells really good cinnamon? The stuff available in supermarkets is not satisfactory. Also, I just can't remember the name of the online spice purveyor - something like "pensy's" (but that doesn't yield any results in a search).
Thanks for your advice.
re: david sprague
I've had really good experience with Penzeys over the last 5 or so years. Their double-strength vanilla is also worth mentioning.
They have a store in Norwalk CT (just up the road from the infamous Stew Leonard's!), if you should want to sniff before you purchase.
Last year I did a complete inventory of my herb and spice collection, threw out whatever had turned to dust and started fresh with a trip to Penzey's --it was tons'o'fun.
re: david sprague
Penzey's is always reliable for both quality and service. They have several different kinds of cinnamon - Chinese cassia, Vietnamese cassia, Korintje cassia, and the "true" cinnamon - Ceylon, in both sticks and ground. (BTW, I love them for my Mexican cooking also - they have all varieties of ground and whole dried chilis - ancho, chipotle, piquin, etc.; along with any other kind of spice you can imagine!)
Also - an added bonus is the "freebies" you get. They use as "packing materials" cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, and whole nutmeg.
HI Christina...and what do you mean by "real" cinnamon? See below.(I agree you want GOOD STRONG FRESH cinnamon.)
I would start at an Indian grocery store, if you have one (e.g. Patel or Sabzi Mandi) with good stock turnover nearby. In Manhattan, Kalyustan or one of the nearby Indian stores would be the source, in Brooklyn, Sahadi. The ground spices in the chinese markets are often stale. Most of the cinnamon that indian and chinese stores have on offer will be be "cassia" cinnamon which is strongly, sweetly spicy and also the kind we prefer in America. The cassia cinnamon sticks are hard and woody with thick bark layers and sort of a dark reddish color. - what we think of as cinnamon sticks. The McCormick supermarket brand is actually quite good cassia cinnamon and usually fresh. Penzeys has a vietnamese cssia which is supposedly even stronger, but Ive never tried it.
Less common is the "true" cinnamon, ceylon cinnamon, which is lighter/oranger in color, milder in flavor and has crumbly sticks with thin bark layers. According to the Katzner spice site, the Euros prefer this kind for baking etc. Having spent quite a lot of time (pre-internet) scouring the city for the Ceylon sticks, and having used both, I am unimpressed by the Zeylonica and I guess I wouldnt take the time - go for the more common cassia.
Really, dont bother grinding your own, you will never get the smooth fine texture of the commercial. Use sticks when feasible and buy commercially ground stuff, in the smallest packet available.
Ive seen the Penzeys store in Norwalk, but I have my doubts. Spices are like coffee - if they sit around ground and exposed to air too long they lose freshness. It is said that Starbucks coffee by the pound in stores is never as good as their mailorder product which is more freshly roasted and ground.
re: jen kalb
Well, I am a "Euro" (although an "Eastern/Central Euro", which to some is not quite the real thing) and at least in good ole Mitteleuropa we use cassia cinnamon. I have ordered Ceylon cinnamon from Penzeys and was overall unimpressed - it just didn't taste like "real cinnamon" to me, although that's what it IS. I am sure it's not the cinnamon's fault - it just tastes different from cassia. (I think it's the British who are supposed to use it.)
Penzey's probably has a huge turnover from their catalog and web based sales, plus they buy directly in Asia and not from second andthird sources, so my guess would be you're safe with them. The Vietnamese cinnamon I got from them is absolutely amazing, nothing I have ever tried comes close to it, it's incredibly aromatic and very very sweet - just fantastic. Have I gotten my point across...?
But an Indian store might also be a good idea - I was at Patel's in Jackson Heights the other day and they have tons of really good looking spices for incredibly low prices.
lest I be misunderstood, I was recommending that Christina mailorder from Penzeys rather than schlepping to their Norwalk retail store.
In case you are interested, I am linking on the Gernot Katzer spice pages article on cassia after all. You can navigate around in his fascinating site to see the cinnamon discussion.
I searched out the Ceylon cinnamon after reading that it was used in indian dishes, but its a bitch to use, since the sticks disintegrate rapidly in a dish. And funny, Ive never seen them used in an actual Indian restaurant.
Likewise, Indians use the cassia leaves in cooking - most recipes calling for bay leaves originally used the cassia leaves, I believe. Kalyustans and some other places have them from time to time - their veins run the length of the leaf rather than running toward the center (sorry I dont know what the botanical name for that characteristic is) Lends a more subtle flavor than the bay leaves. And the bay leaves (like the cassia sticks) are much more easily found in indian stores. Maybe in both cases the substitute became more popular than the original?
I've had excellent luck ordering from The Spice House (link below) out of Chicago. Terrific quality with everything I've gotten.
Many types of cinnamon offered. "The Saigon Cinnamon" is my favorite. Very sharp and pronounced - almost spicy.
I believe the Vietnamese variety is a relatively new import to the US
If you're willing to venture into Manhattan, Aphrodisia on Bleecker Street between 6th Ave. and 7th Ave. has 3 or 4 kinds of cinnamon -- Ceylon, Vietnamese, Chinese -- sold by the ounce. I was somewhat doubtful about the freshness of their spices which are kept in glass jars, but they must have good turnover because everything I've bought there has been fresh and flavorful.