Questions about spices--cassia and laos (galangal)
Has anyone out there cooked with cassia versus cinnamon? What are the differences? Do you use the same proportions?
What about galangal, the rhizone similar to ginger? Is it worth trying to find some for a recipe? (i.e., do you think it adds a lot of flavor or a such a different flavor that it is essential?)
In the whole, unground form, the difference between cassia and true cinnamon is obvious. True cinnamon, which can be bought at Mexican shops, is a thin bark, usually rolled in tight quills. Cassia is much thicker, and smells stronger. Until recently I only saw cassia in small scrolls, the sort sold in spice jars and used as drink ornaments. Recently, though, a local Vietnamese grocery has sold large sticks and bags of broken pieces of cassia bark.
I believe most ground cinnamon is actually cassia. The ground cinnamon sold in small celo bags with Mexican groceries probably is the 'true' stuff. Places like Penzeys sell both.
Yes, galangal is totally worth using and there is no good substitute for it!
In terms of quantities of cassia vs. cinammon, I think using the same amount is fine.
I think the proportions of cassia are the same as cinnamon. If you sniff the two side-by-side, they are different but I don't think you lose a lot by substituting one for the other. Purists will probably disagree.
Some people also use galangal and ginger interchangeably. To me galangal has a sharper, more peppery flavor than ginger and is a little more complex.
galangal doesnt taste like ginger - its much more camphor-like, tho I guess ginger could be substituted if galangal wasnt available it would give a different flavor altogether. I would say if you cant get fresh or frozen galangal (SE Asian stores sell it frozen) the next best thing is the dried slices (like the woody pieces what you will find floating in some thai soups) , the powder is least appealing.
We buy Chinese, Vietnamese, and Ceylon "cinnamon" from Penzey's. My understanding is the Chinese and Vietnamese are cassia and the Ceylon is true cinnamon. Anyway they vary a lot. Vietnamese (my favorite for savory dishes, e.g. curries or Persian spicing with saffron) is subtle and complex, Chinese is simpler and hotter, Ceylon is the flavor in Red Hots. The ground canela I've bought locally in Mexican markets has been bland and mild.
You can substitute ginger for galangal but they're not interchangeable. If a recipe calls for galangal it's worth seeking out. There's a third one called lesser galangal mostly used in Cambodian cooking, again worth the trouble.