canela cinnamon: a staple spice in Mexican cuisine

canela cinnamon
Canela, Mexican cinnamon, or Ceylon cinnamon is imported from Sri Lanka. It's a warm, floral spice with a sweet, woodsy flavor and hints of heat and citrusiness. The versatile spice is a staple in Mexican cuisine in moles, hot beverages, and bean dishes such as frijoles de la olla.

What is canela cinnamon?

Ceylon cinnamon
Ceylon cinnamon

Canela cinnamon is a warm spice obtained from the inner barks of cinnamon trees native to Sri Lanka. It’s available as dried cinnamon quills, sticks, and ground canela cinnamon powder.

“Canela” is the Spanish name for cinnamon and is used in Mexico to refer to Ceylon cinnamon or “true cinnamon.” It also has other names, such as Mexican cinnamon, soft cinnamon, or soft-stock cinnamon. Its scientific name is Cinnamomum verum or Cinnamomum zeylanicum.

OriginCanela cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka
AppearanceThin, delicate, and fragile quills, light brown
Flavor profileA spicy, warm, sweet, herbal, and woodsy spice with soft floral notes of citrus or honeyed fruit

Origin

The bulk of canela cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka. It kept the name Ceylon cinnamon from when the country was known as Ceylon.

Mexico is the largest importer of Sri Lankan cinnamon, although some cinnamon canela grows locally in Tabasco, Puebla, and Veracruz. Ceylon cinnamon also grows in Madagascar, Indonesia, Jamaica, and Brazil.

Canela cinnamon is a staple spice in Mexican cuisine in dishes such as moles, tomato sauces, beans, marinades, chilis, rice pudding, and Mexican hot chocolate.

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You can find ground cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon sticks in grocery stores with herbs and spices in Mexico.

Appearance

Canela cinnamon quills are thinner and softer than cassia cinnamon sticks — their main counterpart variety widely used in American cuisine.

The thin, delicate, and fragile quills are more crumbly and easier to grind with a pestle and mortar or in an electric grinder.

Canela cinnamon has a medium tan or light pale brown color.

Flavor profile

Canela cinnamon has a complex flavor. It is a spicy, warm, sweet, herbal, and woodsy spice with soft floral notes of citrus or honeyed fruit.

Although it’s milder than other cinnamon types, its flavor is deeper. It’s less spicy but sweeter than other cinnamon varieties.

Nutritional Benefits of canela cinnamon

Canela cinnamon is an excellent source of minerals, antioxidants, and vitamins. It’s rich in vitamin A, manganese, vitamin K, magnesium, zinc, and potassium.

Manganese helps in bone repair and managing hormone-producing enzymes. Vitamin A promotes eye health, while vitamin K helps with blood clotting and healing wounds and may keep your bones healthy.

The cinnamaldehyde in canela cinnamon may help lower bad cholesterol levels without altering good cholesterol levels. It may also have anti-inflammatory properties that may reduce the symptoms of arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease.

canela cinnamon compared to other types of cinnamon

Canela cinnamonThe safest and healthiest type, pale brown, spicy, warm, sweet, herbal, and woodsy
Cassia cinnamonSticks are darker brown, tough, and harder to grind into cinnamon powder, slightly bitter
Korintje cinnamonEarthy, spicy, and subtly sweet
Saigon cinnamonSpicy, sweet, and stronger than Korintje

Besides canela cinnamon, you may find other types of cinnamon like cassia cinnamon, Korintje cinnamon, and Saigon cinnamon.

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Ceylon or cinnamon canela is the safest and healthiest type as it contains lower amounts of coumarin and cinnamaldehyde, which are dangerous when consumed in excess.

Cassia or Chinese cinnamon sticks are darker brown, tough, and harder to grind into cinnamon powder. This spicier, more pungent, and slightly bitter variety is common in the US in breads and cinnamon buns.

Korintje cinnamon is earthy, spicy, and subtly sweet.

Saigon cinnamon is spicy, sweet, and stronger than Korintje.

What is canela cinnamon good for?

Canela cinnamon is good for:

  • Curries
  • Chilis
  • Sauces
  • Chai lattes
  • Hot chocolate
  • Baked goods
  • Marinades
  • Bean dishes

Try the versatile spice in classic Mexican recipes such as horchata, ponche Navidenō, atole de Canela, and strawberry empanada. This cinnamon is also great for polvorones de Canelacinnamon ice cream, and frijoles de la olla.

Alex Maina

Since discovering how well spices transform a dish from bland to enjoyable in seconds, Alex became sold on using spices to better three of his major passions—gardening, cooking, and writing. When he is not tending to his spice crops, you'll find him trying a new recipe, writing for the Spice Gourmand, or serving a second helping of his spicy food!

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