It had been many, many years since I had last eaten a cinnamon stick when I tried it again last year. I had made some spiced cider for a gathering by heating a pot of cider with a handful of cinnamon sticks. When the gathering was over and I was cleaning up, I came upon the cider-infused sticks in the pot. Oooh, I thought, this will be yummy!
I grabbed a stick and took a nibble. Hardly worth writing home about. I tried all of the sticks, and none of them had much oomf. Since then, I've occasionally tried a stick or two, but the experience has never been what I remembered as a child. All of the sticks have tasted almost dusty, with only an inkling of flavor - nothing like the intense burst that thrilled my tongue when I was younger. And these were McCormick cinnamon sticks, the same brand my mom used when I was little.
And then a few days ago I was reading about vanilla extract on the McCormick Spice website when I came across this Cinnamon Field Report. It describes the two sources of cinnamon McCormick uses:
Indonesian cinnamon, also known as Korintji, has a delicate flavor — warm and sweet with a touch of spicy.
Vietnamese cinnamon is from a large, older tree and yields a stronger, bolder taste profile similar to cinnamon red-hot candies. ... Vietnamese cinnamon, also known as Saigon, is the most coveted and exotic cinnamon available. Though, in America, we’ve only been able to enjoy its premium taste during the past decade, Saigon is well worth a try. The word for cinnamon in Vietnamese is que (pronounced “kway”). Saigon cinnamon has double the amount of volatile oil of Korintji. The volatile oil is what delivers the flavor and aroma — higher content means greater intensity.
Other sources say that the Vietnam war disrupted the supply of Vietnamese cinnamon to the U.S and that it has only been available again for about a decade.
I was little during and just after the Vietnamese war - in fact my cinnamon stick eating days were in the 70's. So either McCormick had a huge stock of Vietnamese cinammon and sold it throughout the 70's, or the cinnamon in my mom's spice cupboard dated from before the Vietnam war, because the cinnamon that I ate back then was definitely the Vietnamese, or Saigon, cinnamon.
How do I know? Because McCormick now sells the higher quality Vietnamese cinnamon under their Gourmet label. It's pricier than their other cinnamon. But luckily, during the holiday season, lots of spices are on sale - including McCormick's Gourmet label cinnamon sticks. I bought some today. When I opened the jar and inhaled, I smelled heaven. I nibbled a stick ... flavor exploded in my mouth. My taste buds haven't been this happy for decades! Mmmm. This is definitely the same cinnamon that intoxicated me when I was a girl.
If you like cinnamon, try the Vietnamese stuff. You'll be oh so glad that you did.