It’s one of those aromas that instantly takes you back to cozy memories of holiday treats, eggnog, chai tea, and mulled wine.
Its gentle spice warms the heart and awakens the senses – You might even call it the quintessential winter spice. I’m talking about cinnamon.
Where does cinnamon come from?
Cinnamon has been cherished as a spice and a medicine for thousands of years. It’s always been a symbol of luxury; ancient civilizations considered it an adequate offering for deities and royalty.
Cinnamon sticks are dried strips of the inner bark of a cinnamon tree. Cinnamon trees are native to Sri Lanka – that’s where the best cinnamon still comes from today – but cinnamon plantations can be found all over Southeast Asia, China, and South America.
There are two main species of cinnamon – Cylon and Cassia. Cylon is known as “true cinnamon.” its tight, thin rolls have a delicate, nuanced flavor – this is the good stuff from Sri Lanka. Cassia cinnamon usually has a dryer, spicier flavor, and thickly curled rolls on both sides of the stick. Cassia cinnamon is mass-produced in China and Brazil, making it cheaper and much easier to find in the US than its cousin Cylon.
Both types of cinnamon have been studied in modern times for their medicinal qualities. Cinnamon is packed with antioxidants. It can help to lower blood sugar and cholesterol. The fragrance alone can help with stress and anxiety.
Because of cinnamon’s festive flavor, relaxing effects, and luxurious connotations, it’s a must-have behind every cocktail bar.
The Flavor of Cinnamon
Cinnamon has a spicy dryness that perfectly balances out sweet ingredients like vanilla, apple, raisin, and honey. It is great at complimenting other flavors, like curry powder, garlic, or dill. Cinnamon is an important ingredient in desserts and savory dishes all over the world. It’s also a super common ingredient in cordials and herbal liquors.
While cinnamon’s distinct flavor doesn’t always reveal itself when it’s blended with other spices, it’s a standard ingredient in many gins, amaros, vermouths, and bitters. Angostura bitters are made with cinnamon. The same goes for Amaro Averna, Coca-Cola, Carpano Antica, and Tanqueray.
Because it is tree bark, cinnamon contributes a light dryness similar to oak aging. It’s great at creating balance and tying other flavors together.
Cinnamon works best when it’s used as a complementary flavor. Pair it with a citrus-forward gin to add more spice, or rich vermouth to balance the sweetness. Cinnamon is a useful tool to keep in mind while you’re creating original cocktails, especially in wintertime.
When it comes to incorporating cinnamon into a cocktail, you have plenty of options. The spice is available in whole sticks or as a fine-ground powder.
How to use Cinnamon Sticks
- Simmer 4-5 sticks in two cups of water for 30 minutes to make a spicy cinnamon tea. Drink this on its own or use it as an ingredient in a bourbon punch or tiki drink. (Be careful not to overcook cinnamon sticks, as they will turn bitter with prolonged exposure to heat.)
- Mix 1 cup of warm cinnamon tea with 1 cup of sugar to make a cinnamon syrup. Use cinnamon syrup as a replacement for regular sugar in a hot toddy, daiquiri, or pisco sour.
- Cinnamon sticks make for beautiful garnishes, especially in booze-forward cocktails like an Old Fashioned. As the cocktail is sipped, the cinnamon flavor will slowly get stronger and stronger, adding an element of surprise to any traditional cocktail.
How to use Ground Cinnamon
- Sprinkle ground cinnamon on top of a shaken cocktail as an aromatic garnish.
- Ground cinnamon brilliantly sparks and pops when it hits flame, so if you have fire incorporated into your cocktail, sprinkle ground cinnamon on it for an even more dramatic effect.
- Mix ground cinnamon with sugar and use this mixture to rim the glasses of seasonal beer or eggnog.
Hot Gin Toddy
- 1 1/2 oz. dry gin
- 1/2 oz. lemon juice
- 1/2 oz. simple syrup
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- 6 oz. hot water
Preparation: Stir all ingredients together in a heat-safe mug. Garnish with a lemon wheel and a cinnamon stick. Notice how the cinnamon gets stronger as you sip this drink.
- 1 bottle of red wine
- 2 oz. apple brandy
- 1 sliced orange
- 1/2 sliced lemon
- 1 sliced apple
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 3 green cardamom pods
- 1 star anise
- 4 whole cloves
- 1-2 oz. maple syrup or honey, to taste
Preparation: Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and gently heat – without boiling – for 1 hour. Strain out the citrus and spices, and serve warm, or let it cool and serve it over ice with a splash of ginger ale. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and fresh fruit.
Spiced Apple Mule
- 1 1/2 oz. whiskey
- 1 oz. apple cider
- 1/2 oz. cinnamon syrup
- 1/2 oz. lime juice
Preparation: Combine ingredients in a copper mug over ice. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with a lime wedge and a cinnamon stick.
What is your favorite way to mix cinnamon into a cocktail? Leave a comment below! Please keep in mind that consuming large doses of cinnamon can cause gastrointestinal irritation.