Mr Taster just returned from Vietnam... with REAL cinnamon!
It's Mr Taster, back after long hiatus to chow regions eastbound, struggling with this bizarre new interface for Chowhound.
Here's the scoop... one of the few things I returned home with from Asia was a stick of *real* cinnamon (and by real I mean not the tiny cinnamon sticks you get at Starbucks, who also gets their coffee (for micro-cents) from the hill tribe villagers in Vietnam and this fact is proclaimed proudly in all their storefronts there!... but I' talking about a real stick, about a foot long, the bark shaved off the trunk of a cinnamon tree. I do have a photo with me buying said cinnamon log on my horribly outdated travel blog at:
(The main webpage for my travels is www.travelpod.com/members/adamandeva)
So now that I've got the thing, what do I do with it? This thing literally is the bark of a tree, so I don't know whether to wash it or grind it (but when I grind it with a rasp, it tends to chip off into pieces too big for cinnamonn-y applications. But oh dear is the aroma heavenly....
Lastly, how do I preserve it? I was very careful of selecting my cinnamon log at the market, as there were plenty of ugly grey sticks with no aroma. Mine was a beautiful, fragrant bright orange. So how do I keep it that way for as long as possible?
(now with no . after the Mr, due to Chowhound technical restrictions)
I am envious. You lucky duck.
Here's what you do. First, if you want to use it right away, it should be good to go to grind it. If you can break it up into fairly small pieces and put it in a spice grinder, just grind it up as you'd like to use it. Whatever is ground that you don't use you can keep in a small spice jar (airtight is best) and will proably still be fragrant and flavorful for a few months.
For long term storage, I would suggest sealing it in a vacu-pak device if you've got one, wrapped well in parchement/brown paper/butcher paper, then putting it into a second plastic bag and stored in the freezer. When you need to use it again, take it out of the freezer, remove outer bag and wrapping, leave vacu-pak intact and wrap in tea towels overnight. This will allow the sticks to thaw gradually and will wick away moisture which is not good for the dry spice.
When its been at room temp for a few hours, open the vacu-pak and "refresh" the spice in a 200 degree F oven/toaster oven for about 3-5 minutes. This will also dry out any moisture lingering in the stick. Then use as you would--grind or use whole.
P.S. McCormick packages "Saigon Cinnamon," which is this "real" cinnamon that you refer to. The quality is very good, but they only sell it ground (that I've seen).
re: Non Cognomina
Trader Joe's also has a wonderful cinnamon that I suspect is Saigon cinnamon-esque, ground.
Maybe check food preservation FAQs and consider a small container with some oxygen-removal method - nitrogen or whatever. I'd probably opt for dark apothecary glass but would worry about moisture and want to add some moisture absorbers. Or better yet, ask some Chinese herbs folks how they keep their items fresh - maybe Dragon Herbs near the beach on Wilshire (around Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica). They've done some trip-to-China sourcing and must have encountered this issue.
Break off some chunks and steep in boiling water with some good brown sugar, to make a cinnamon flavored tea or syrup.
Is this a thin bark, or thick? Mexican markets sell a thin, mild cinnamon, where a quill is many layers thick. Recently in Vietnamese markets I've found a stronger bark about 1/8 to 1/4" thick. Both can be found in sticks several feet long, though the Mexican version usually is cut in shorter sticks.
Wish I had a more detailed photo to post. I'll work on it.
This is a very thick curled bark, at least 1/4" thick, not including the rough outer layer (you know, the part that actually looks and feels like a tree trunk)
By the way, the thing cost all of 75 cents. Shocking when you consider what a place like Penzey's would charge for it!
re: Mr Taster
My suggestion is to just use it, without worrying about storing it for long term. I'm sure in Vietnam they don't vacuum seal it or freeze it. I think this cinnamon has a pretty robust flavor, which will not disappear rapidly. You might even need to protect other items from picking up its aroma.
With home equipment it is going to be hard to grind it to a fine powder, so you are restricted to using it in recipes where you can steep or cook chunks.
For example I have a Vietnamese beef stew recipe that calls for crushed lemon grass, star anise, pepper corns, and cinnamon stick (1 inch). A pigs' feet stew uses similar seasonings. If the cook or diner is already straining out hard bits of lemon grass or anise, chunks of bark won't be a problem.
I wonder if burying a chunk in sugar would produce cinnamon flavored sugar (as is done with a vanilla bean)? I'll have to try that.
Mr Taster, also be advised that the cinnamon you have is more potent than the regularly scheduled cinnamon you can get in most grocery stores. If you are using it in a recipe where you have used other cinnamon, be advised to start with half of what it calls for, taste it and add more. Unless, like me, you happen to love cinnamon, then just go for it!
Welcome back, Mr. Taster! I hope you had a wonderful time on your travels! Am very jealous imagining all the great food, sights, and people you must have encountered.
Anyhow, I don't know much about Viet cinnamon in bark form. I just remember seeing an episode of Good Eats where Alton shows cinnamon from around the globe. I also have some of the Penzeys Viet cinnamon, and it's amazing; I never used to like cinnamon til this one!
What I can offer is a recipe for you to use up your cinnamon...Not a Viet dish, but what else, ice cream! I haven't made this myself, but Candy posted it a while back (the new interface may feel like culture shock to you now, but the search engine is fantastic!):
Cinnamon Ice Cream:
You can also make a big pot of pho bo using a chunk of the cinnamon if you're wanting to recapture the flavors from your travels. Let us know how it goes...