Sweet & Spicy Cinnamon

Sweet & Spicy Cinnamon. You are the taste of winter. Either in mulled wine or sweet pastries, you give to the little ones and the grown-ups warmth and joy at this season. You are among the oldest spices known and treasured by the ancient civilizations of the Middle-East and Europe. The Egyptians, Mesopotamians, Greeks and Romans, all considered you as a gift from the Gods. From incense to medicine and for flavoring wines and gravies, your use and benefits were endless. Your origin was as mysterious as your power. The legends told that you were fished in deep nets, at the extreme edge of the world, when this one was yet not a sphere. How many have died and dreamt for your taste and scent, dear cinnamon?

Cassia sticks from China. Much thicker and rougher than True Cinnamon from Ceylon. (Fotolia / suradesh_k)

About 250 species of the genus Cinnamomum, members of the laurel family,  are known today. They are shrubs or even trees of up to 30 meters high, mostly leaving in Asia. These plants are very aromatic, and their leaves, bark, and sap are widely used for various culinary, medicinal or industrial purposes. Cinnamomum Camphora, for example, known as camphor tree,  is native from East China and Japan and produces a white crystalline substance called camphor, used as an insect repellent and a flea-killing substance (in our grandmother’s closet), an important ingredient in the production of smokeless gunpowder and several other medicinal uses. Camphor is also a note in some interesting fragrances, and that’s why it will be the subject of a future post in Scent & Flavor. We will focus this time on the genus  Cinnamomum Verum or True (or Ceylon) cinnamon, and Cinnamomum Cassia or False (or Chinese) cinnamon.

Cinnamomum Verum, as illustrated by Franz Eugen Koehler in his Medicinal Plants Guide published in 1887.

Cinnamomum Verum (aka Zeylanicum) is an evergreen tree of up to 10 meters high, mainly native to Sri Lanka. The leaves are oblong and odoriferous, and the flowers are very small green and unimpressive buds with a very pleasant smell. The fruits look like small berries with only one seed inside. The inner bark of the tree is the most precious part of the plant which we all know as the spice cinnamon sold in quills or as a powder. Ceylon cinnamon has a sweet smell and is light brown in color. The quill is thin and has a brittle texture, making it easy to pulverize using a coffee grinder. Cinnamomum Cassia is originally from South China and now grown principally in Indonesia. The bark is thick and rough and used in such form in Chinese medicine preparations and Chinese food, but otherwise in ground form as a spice. Its taste is more bitter than its Ceylon cousin and less appreciated in sweet dishes.

When ordering cinnamon essential oil, look carefully if extracted from Cinnamomum Verum/Zeylanicum or Cinnamomum Cassia, and if distilled from bark or leaves. All oils have different scent profiles and qualities. Cinnamomum Verum bark oil is the most expensive and intense of all oils.

Cinnamon Essential oil is obtained by the steam distillation of the leaves or the bark of the tree.  The bark oil is sweeter, stronger and more intense than the one from the leaves and also more expensive. You will always find the Latin name of the species specified on the bottle, to distinguish between Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia. The smell of both oils is pretty similar thanks to their high content of cinnamaldehyde and eugenol, but one of the major difference between both oils is the amount of coumarin it contains. Cassia has a high coumarin content and thus represents a health risk when consumed or applied in high concentration. Cassia oil is also cheaper than true Ceylon cinnamon and is unfortunately often used to adulterate the oil of this latter.

Cinnamon leaf oil is useful in aromatherapy as an analgesic or painkiller. The bark oil is higher in cinnamaldehyde content and thus recommended for its antimicrobial and antiviral properties. Do not apply any of these essential oils directly to the skin as they are strong irritants. They should never be used on sensitive areas, even after dilution in a carrier oil.

In perfumery, the note of cinnamon comes essentially from the cinnamaldehyde molecule extracted by fractional distillation of the natural essential oil or from synthesis in labs. This molecule is generally recognized as safe in typical fragrance concentrations. Cinnamon is found either as a top, heart or base note in oriental fragrances, blending well with other spices resins and woods. Cinnamon characterizes more men fragrances but is also widely used today in unisex juices. Here are my cinnamon picks of the week:

Gentleman Only Absolute by Givenchy is a good example of an oriental perfume with rich notes of sandalwood and vanilla, spiced by cinnamon, saffron, and nutmeg, with a top note of bergamot. A pretty classic modern juice for young gentlemen. Not very unique, but with a good longevity and sillage that will last for the whole night.

Potion, by the Canadian-Italian fashion house DSquared2 is a powerful woody aromatic for men. I love the Wood Collection of this brand and was a bit surprised by the shift towards a more oriental style with Potion. The nose Annick Menardo perfectly blended cinnamon in the heart of the perfume, with green notes, rose and pepper, on an ambery base and aromatic herbal top notes of thyme, mint, and angelica. Not for every man and every occasion, but excellent for a festive winter evening with friends, with possibly some intimate end. From the same brand, try the SHE and HE WOOD collection, which is for me one of the very best in the market for the wood lovers like me.

L’Eau et Eau Lente by Diptyque are very early oriental creations from the French house. Both Eau de Toilette are projecting a clear note of cinnamon blended with cloves and other spices, with floral notes of geranium and rose for the first one, and a sweeter vanilla-opoponax resin accord for the second. I must admit that I only tried them in the store and could not appreciate fully their dry-down on my skin, which is what their owners always appreciate in reviews. These are two good winter EDT that I will probably consider for the next season since I already invested a lot during my winter holidays 😉

The great Jean-Claude Ellena, star-perfumer to the House of Hermès for many years, created lots of olfactory jewels in his career, among which Ambre Narguilé, itself an element of the Hermessence exclusive collection. This fragrance is obviously centered on an amber note decorated with cinnamon and other spices, honey, tobacco and smokey notes. Very inspired juice transporting us to some fragrant Levantine hookah lounge. What a bliss!

That’s it,  Folks! Time to make our cinnamon buns for this weekend fresh mornings. I’ll see you again next week for another fragrant post.

Cheers my friends,

Laurent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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