Cinnamon: Magnificent Flavor in Unexpected Places
Pho is a type of Vietnamese soup. It is a treasured dish that has become popular all over the US, because of its rich and complex flavors. Part of its surprising flavor profile is very commonly cinnamon.
Most Americans view cinnamon as a sweet spice, used to flavor baked goods and desserts. This has not been the case for most of cinnamon's history, which is long and illustrious.
Two major types of cinnamon exist, each with their own properties. Cassia cinnamon or Cinnamomum cassia is the most common, and is what is labeled cinnamon in most spice aisles in US grocery stores. It is cheaper, stronger, and less complex than its cousin. Ceylon cinnamon or Cinnamomum verum or “true cinnamon” is more complex and delicate than cassia.
Cassia is more than adequate for most culinary tasks. Aside from sweets and baked goods, which is common and well traveled ground in modern culinary circles, cinnamon adds a beautiful flavor and complexity to meats and savory dishes. Cinnamon has not lost popularity in Middle Eastern cooking as a seasoning for fowl and lamb, as well as in tagine and other braised dishes. It is a common ingredient in Indian savory dishes as well.
Cassia has no problem standing tall in American cuisine either. It is a wonderful addition to homemade mustard, adding amazing flavor to honey mustard dressings and other salad condiments. It is amazing in BBQ rubs and meat and poultry seasonings. It adds wonderful depth and complexity of flavor to common foods such as chili and baked beans. And similar to clove (and is even better alongside it), cassia cinnamon does something magical to pork applications, wonderful in sausages, braised pork, pork BBQ, sprinkled lightly over bacon, or used in stuffing. And of course, it is marvelous in soups, famously...in Pho.
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