Cinnamon in Historical Mead Recipes

Continuing common historical mead ingredients.

The top two ingredients in historical meads, ginger and cloves, are ahead of the third, cinnamon, by a significant margin. Cinnamon is common across all periods, but in pre-1600 recipes, cinnamon is actually the number one addition, edging out both cloves and ginger.

Cinnamon is in just under half (46%) of the recipes containing spices. It is uncommon as the sole spice in a mead, about 10% of the single spice recipes use cinnamon. This continues in the recipes with 2 spices, where cinnamon is in about 25%. It is most often paired in these cases with cloves, mace, or nutmeg. Its overall frequency is driven upwards by being in about 2/3 of recipes containing four or five spices, and virtually all recipes with six or more. This paints a picture for cinnamon as the “Best Supporting Actor” of historical meads.

Ceylon Cinnamon (left) and Cassia (right)

As many know, there are two primary kinds of cinnamon, cassia and Ceylon. Cassia is much more common, and includes in the modern day three important sub-types: Indonesian (Korintje, Padang – Cinnamonmum Burmanni: the sweetest and mildest), Chinese (Cassia – Cinnamomum Aromaticum: stronger and bitter), and Saigon (Vietnamese – Cinnamomum loureiroi: intensely flavored). Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum or Cinnamomum Zeylanicum) is overall milder and more aromatic.

About 75% of the cinnamon imported to the US is cassia, with Indonesian cinnamon making up the vast majority. Ceylon cinnamon is relatively more common in Europe, and many believe it was the more common cinnamon historically, making it arguably a better choice for historical recipes containing cinnamon. It is unclear if that claim can be substantiated historically. The use of Ceylon in the US is increasing, apparently largely due to concern over the much higher concentration of coumarin (known to cause liver damage) in Ceylon cinnamon.

Historical mead recipe writers were aware of the two kinds of cinnamon. At least one recipe calls out the thicker and thinner leaves of cassia versus Ceylon. German 16th century recipes occasionally call for “Caneels oder Zimmetrinden” indicating both types were available and acceptable options.

Cinnamon historically was used as the rolled quills, not powdered. When the quills are used it is easy to tell cassia types from Ceylon (see picture, thank you Wiki Images). Once ground the Ceylon is less red and lighter in color.

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