There is cinnamon, and then there is true cinnamon the true cinnamon (also referred to as real cinnamon) is actually Ceylon cinnamon, which comes from a small tree (Cinnamomumverum) grown in Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Brazil, Vietnam and Egypt with Sri Lanka being the largest producer of this veritable spice.
There are four main varieties of cinnamon, but Ceylon and Cassia are the most popular ones with Ceylon being more expensive. Cinnamon comes from the rough outer bark of the tree. Once the bark is removed the thin papery-like layers that lie beneath the bark are peeled away. These thin sheets are dried and rolled into quills of multiple layers and are left to dry in the shade.
You might think that all forms of cinnamon look alike, but there is a difference. The quill form of true cinnamon is easy to distinguish from cassia by the lighter color and the thin papery layers that make up the quill. Cassia quills are much thicker and harder to snap in half, unlike true cinnamon which is easy to break and crumble. The quills are usually 3" to 3 1/2 inches long, but they can grow up to three feet.
Because the Ceylon bark is thin and fragile it is easier to grind the whole quill just by using a spice grinder. Whole quills can last up to two years by storing them in an airtight container away from heat and moisture. But ground cinnamon should be purchased in small quantities and used within a few months for the best results.
Even though true cinnamon and cassia are interchangeable, the tell-tale difference is in the subtle taste of the dish itself, depending on which one was used. I think if you experiment with both, you will become more familiar with the type of flavor you want out of the cinnamon you choose to use. For me, I love the warm, floral notes that Ceylon creates in the dish I am preparing. It also provides a smoother, sweeter taste without the sharp, strong punch that is found in the cassia variety. But each one offers a different quality of flavor, and one variety can suit a recipe much better than the other; its all up to your taste buds. If you prefer the flavor of true cinnamon over the more assertive tones of cassia, then try Ceylon cinnamon or Mexican cinnamon.
Although cinnamon is one of natures superfoods, it is also one of the oldest known spices on the planet. It has been consumed since 2000 BC in Ancient Egypt, where it was very highly prized. And in medieval times doctors used cinnamon to treat such conditions as coughing,arthritis and sore throats. Research has shown that cinnamon is loaded with anti-oxidants, and may lower bad cholesterol, and regulate metabolism.
Cooking with cinnamon is an open field there is not much you cant cook or use with cinnamon. From sprinkling on oatmeal, to adding it to make super-duper sauces to rice casseroles and awesome desserts, cinnamon can dazzle any dish or drink. I like sprinkling cinnamon on toast and adding it to my tea.
So if you have not yet tried Ceylon cinnamon, and you want the great benefits from it, perhaps its a good idea to replace your current cinnamon at home with Ceylon. In the meantime, you can enjoy a cup of Ceylon tea by adding approximately 1/2 to 1 tsp per cup of hot water.