Cinnamon?

So last night I was volunteering in a spice class…  Talked about milling, grinding, storing…. how to roast, how to toast, all the usual things.  There was however, one thing that was not usual. Not for me anyway… The instructor picked up from her display plate some cinnamon sticks, average.. every day.. cinnamon sticks.  Not.

They were actually cassia sticks. A different plant, although botanically it is in the same family.This was not the shocking part.  The shocking part… was that the cinnamon that most North Americans know and love, is not cinnamon. It is in fact, cassia.  Somewhere along the line during the spice trade, you know… back when nutmeg was worth more by weight than gold…. people were paid bonuses in cloves, and peppercorns were used to pay ransoms..   Okay maybe not quite that far back, but still when spices from around the world were not shared. Someone decided to bring North America fake cinnamon (aka cassia).   Now I am in no way bashing cassia by calling it fake, having been a lover of this fraudulent spice for my entire life, I will stand by my love for its warm sweetness. Since I am now familiar with its real name, things get a little bit more complicated.. I am used to associating the word “cinnamon” with those characteristics (warm, sweet, pungent), in fact true cinnamon loses its aroma very quickly and has more citrusy and clove type hints.

True cinnamon is indigenous to Sri Lanka and is very labor intensive to harvest. Similar to saffron in that people spend many many hours, days and months learning how to cultivate it, comparable as going to trades school. True cinnamon does not come off in strips of bark like cassia does, it comes off more in thin flecks. The Sri Lankan cinnamon gardeners peel the plants with extraordinary dexterity, cutting paper-thin bits of the bark and then very specifically rolling them into quills, almost like a cigar. They are rolled into these quills reaching sometimes over 1 meter in length! All done by hand!

Cassia, on the other hand, is peeled in sheets and dried in the sun. As it dries, it curls up and is naturally formed into the scroll.

Crazy. I had no idea.

So I figured I would track down some of each and whip something up to showcase their differences.

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I had been eyeing sweet potatoes and the organic market for a couple of days, and finally broke down and bought a couple of them.  I don’t buy them very often because I don’t typically want a vegetable that is so naturally sweet. Cut the natural – I don’t typically want a vegetable to be sweet at all.  Turns out, they were perfect for this spicy twist on a potato salad!

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Roasted Sweet Potato Salad

2 (medium sized) Sweet Potatoes
1 Tbsp Coconut Oil
2 Tbsp Veganaise
1/2 Cup of Raisins
1/2 Tsp Ground Ginger
1/4 Tsp True Cinnamon
Freshly ground pepper and a sprinkling of marash chili (this is optional, but if you can find marash chiles they are definitely worth it! They have more of a tart and bright flavor as opposed to raging heat like hot pepper flakes. They really round out the sweetness for me personally)

Preheat the oven to 350, scrub the sweet potatoes and cut them into cubes. Toss them in a  baking dish with the coconut oil and roast for about 45 minutes. I wanted them to still have some crunch, so if you’d prefer them to be soft, roast them a little longer. Allow them to cool completely. Prepare the veganaise (or whatever mayonnaise you like) with the ginger and the true cinnamon, making sure it is completely incorporated. It should have a slightly shiny off white tinge.  Add in the sweet potatoes and the raisins and mix well. Another reason I left the sweet potatoes slightly firm, I didn’t want them to disintegrate while I mixed the salad together. Top with fresh pepper and marash.

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The slightness of the true cinnamon was a lovely addition to the sweet potato! It was not pungent at all like cassia would have been, it as just subtle. It really allowed the salad to function as a salad as opposed to a dessert – which I fear it may have smelled like if I had used cassia.

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