Most people are familiar with the comforting taste and smell of cinnamon. What you may not know is that there are actually four distinct types of cinnamon available commercially. Saigon cinnamon, also known as Vietnamese cinnamon, is known for its high essential oil content, which gives it a strong flavor and aroma. Saigon cinnamon is often found in baked goods and processed foods.
The scientific name for Saigon cinnamon is Cinnamomum Loureiroi. You may also hear it called Vietnamese Cassia since it falls into the cassia category of cinnamon. Compared to Ceylon cinnamon, cassia-type cinnamon has a spicier taste.
Cooking With Saigon Cinnamon
Most recipes that call for cinnamon — especially those from Europe, the Middle East, and Mexico — are written with the sweeter, milder Ceylon cinnamon in mind. In the U.S., Cassia cinnamon, also known as Chinese cinnamon, is more common. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t use Saigon cinnamon instead. Just remember that substituting a different type of cinnamon might change the flavor profile. Where Ceylon cinnamon has a mild, sweet taste, Saigon is described as spicy-sweet. Cassia cinnamon, meanwhile, is spicy but bitter.
Here are a few ways Saigon cinnamon is used in baking in cooking:
- Whole: You can use it to make a spicy herbal tea or put a piece on top of your coffee grounds and get the flavor in that way. For breakfast, add some chips to your pot of oatmeal for a flavor infusion. For dinner, add the cinnamon to chili or your favorite meat recipe, such as a slow-cooked beef shank. It is also an important ingredient in pho, a Vietnamese staple. Saigon cinnamon chips are often used to flavor the broth.
- Ground: You can also buy Saigon Cinnamon chips and grind it up yourself for a stronger taste than pre-ground cinnamon. Ground Saigon cinnamon makes a great addition to oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, and it pairs well with ginger in some of your favorite holiday cookies, such as ginger twinkles. It can also be used in dishes such as chicken biryani. For a stronger cinnamon taste, try substituting ground Saigon cinnamon for the cinnamon you normally use in your favorite recipes.
Saigon Cinnamon: History and Origination
Saigon cinnamon is native to North and Central Vietnam, although it can also be grown in Japan and China. Local farmers have been known to munch on the fresh pieces, savoring the candy-like flavor of this sweet cinnamon variety. Even the dried Saigon cinnamon bark will taste like red-hot cinnamon candy when bitten.
Production of Saigon cinnamon was disrupted during the Vietnam War, and for about 20 years, the spice was unavailable in the United States. Commercial production resumed in the early 21st century, and today the spice is not only readily available but also gaining popularity in the U.S. Cinnamon enthusiasts, foodies, and chefs have raved about the superior taste and aroma of Saigon cinnamon.
Of the four types of cinnamon available, Saigon cinnamon actually has the highest essential oil content. The bark has an essential oil content of roughly 1 to 5 percent essential oil, and of that, 25 percent is cinnamaldehyde — the substance that gives cinnamon its distinct flavor and aroma.
Cultivation of Saigon Cinnamon
Saigon cinnamon is dried bark harvested from a type of evergreen tree indigenous to the mainland of Southeast Asia, specifically Vietnam. Despite its name, Saigon cinnamon is not grown in the south near Vietnam’s capital but rather in the nation’s highlands to the north. Saigon cinnamon trees are medium in size and grow best in moist well-drained soil and hot tropical climates. They require frequent watering and full sunlight.
Unlike Ceylon cinnamon, which is harvested from trees as young as 5 years old, Saigon cinnamon is not harvested until a tree is much older — typically between 15 and 20 years old. At this point, the trees are cut down and the bark is cut off with small knives. Often Saigon cinnamon is not supple enough to be rolled into the iconic curls of a cinnamon stick. In that case, it is sold as broken pieces of bark. When ground, the cinnamon has a dark reddish-brown color.
About Our Saigon Cinnamon
Our whole Saigon cinnamon comes straight from the cool hills Lai Chau, a rural province in northwest Vietnam. It is available in three different sizes. The 1.5-ounce flip-top glass bottle is a great choice for spice racks, while the 4-ounce size comes in a resealable rice paper bag that fits neatly into kitchen cabinets. If you’re looking for a bulk option, our 36-ounce size comes in a sturdy plastic gallon container.