Mexican cinnamon, also known as Canela or Canela de Mexico, is a common variety of cinnamon that is extremely popular for use in Mexican cuisine. But one question that often comes up is whether Mexican cinnamon has a spicy kick to it or not.
The quick answer is that Mexican cinnamon does tend to be spicier and more intense in flavor compared to more common varieties of cinnamon like Ceylon or Cassia. However, it is not an extremely spicy or hot spice, but rather has a rich, warming spicy-sweet flavor profile.
What Makes Mexican Cinnamon Spicy?
There are a few key reasons why Mexican cinnamon imparts a spicier flavor compared to other cinnamon varieties:
- Higher Essential Oil Content – Mexican cinnamon contains a higher concentration of essential oils like cinnamaldehyde, which gives cinnamon its distinctive flavor and spice.
- Higher Coumarin Levels – Coumarin is a compound that gives cinnamon its spicy character. Mexican cinnamon has higher natural coumarin levels.
- Growing Conditions & Processing – Growing conditions and processing methods in Mexico impact the final flavor profile and spiciness.
- Cinnamomum Burmannii – Mexican cinnamon comes from a plant called Cinnamomum Burmannii, which tends to have a spicier flavor profile compared to Cinnamomum verum (Ceylon cinnamon) or Cinnamomum cassia (Cassia cinnamon).
How Much Spicier is Mexican Cinnamon?
When comparing the spiciness of Mexican cinnamon to more common varieties like Ceylon and Cassia, it ranks as follows from least spicy to most spicy:
- Ceylon Cinnamon
- Cassia Cinnamon
- Mexican Cinnamon
Ceylon cinnamon has the most mild, delicate flavor while Cassia is bolder and more pungent. Mexican cinnamon has a robust spicy-sweetness that is noticeably warmer and more intense than the other two.
However, Mexican cinnamon is not extremely hot or spicy. It ranks at about a 3-4 on a spiciness scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the hottest. So it definitely has a kick, but likely won’t overpower other flavors or be intolerable for those sensitive to spice.
How is Mexican Cinnamon Used in Cooking?
Mexican cinnamon’s rich, spicy-sweet flavor makes it incredibly versatile in a wide array of Mexican cuisine. Here are some of the most popular uses for Mexican cinnamon:
Mexican cinnamon excels at bringing warmth and spice to hot drinks like cafe de olla (Mexican cinnamon coffee), champurrado (cinnamon hot chocolate), and atole (a cinnamon corn drink). It provides a spicy kick not found with milder cinnamons.
Canela is a key ingredient and flavor base for rich, complex mole sauces often served over meat and poultry. It brings depth along with other spices like cloves, cumin, and chili peppers.
Mexican cinnamon adds flair to classic desserts like churros, flan, rice pudding (arroz con leche), and tres leches cake. It pairs wonderfully with chocolate, vanilla, and fruit flavors.
Fruits & Vegetables
Spice up fruits and veggies by sprinkling Mexican cinnamon on sliced mango, pineapple, jicama, cucumber, and other fresh produce. The spice-fruit combo is popular in fruit cups and street food.
Give nuts, popcorn, or oatmeal an extra punch by dusting them with ground Mexican cinnamon. Canela’s warmth complements both sweet and savory snacks.
Substituting Mexican Cinnamon in Recipes
In a pinch, you can substitute regular Cassia cinnamon for Mexican cinnamon in recipes, though the flavor won’t be an exact match. Here are some tips:
- Use 25% less – Since Mexican cinnamon is more intense, use about 3/4 as much regular cinnamon.
- Combine with other spices – Add a pinch of cloves, allspice, ginger, or black pepper to approximate Mexican cinnamon’s kick.
- Use cinnamon stick – Simmering a Cassia cinnamon stick in liquids can extract more spice.
- Boost cinnamaldehyde – Add a drop of cinnamon essential oil for more of that warming compound.
While not perfect, these substitutions can provide some of the spicy complexity missing from regular cinnamon.
Where to Buy Authentic Mexican Cinnamon
To experience true Mexican cinnamon’s robust flavor, it’s best to buy Canela imported directly from Mexico. Here are some places to purchase authentic, high-quality Mexican cinnamon:
- Amazon – Large selection of pure Canela sticks, ground, and powder
- MexGrocer.com – Mexican food importer selling Canela in bulk
- BulkFoods.com – Online bulk foods store with Canela options
- Walmart.com – Ground Mexican cinnamon available
Ethnic Grocery Stores
- Mexican markets
- Latino/Hispanic supermarkets
- Mercados – Traditional Latin American markets
- Penzeys Spices
- Spice shops
- Gourmet and upscale grocers
Shopping at an ethnic or specialty store offers the best chance to sample Canela before you buy and ensure freshness and authenticity.
How to Store Mexican Cinnamon
To retain Mexican cinnamon’s flavor and potency for as long as possible:
- Keep in airtight container away from light and heat
- Store sticks whole; grind just before use
- Use within 1-2 years for optimal freshness
- Smell and taste periodically – discard if faded
Proper storage helps preserve the essential oils that give Mexican cinnamon its spicy kick and aroma.
Mexican Cinnamon Spice Blend Recipes
Mexican cinnamon shines when combined with other warm, robust spices. Here are some recipe ideas for Mexican cinnamon spice blends:
Basic Mexican Spice Blend
- 2 Tbsp Mexican cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp ancho chile powder
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- 3 Tbsp Mexican cinnamon
- 2 Tbsp ancho chile powder
- 1 Tbsp garlic powder
- 2 tsp onion powder
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp oregano
Mexican Hot Chocolate Mix
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup Mexican cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp ground ancho chili
- 1 tsp vanilla
Mix up a batch of these combos to add warm Mexican flair to any dish!
Is Mexican Cinnamon Safe?
Mexican cinnamon contains more coumarin, a natural compound that can be toxic to the liver in very high doses. However, you would need to consume extremely high amounts of Mexican cinnamon daily for an extended period to reach dangerous coumarin levels.
Occasional use in normal cooking applications is considered safe by the FDA and health organizations. Those with liver conditions may want to limit daily intake to under half a teaspoon as a precaution.
Tips for Safe Consumption:
- Use in moderation as a spice, not supplement
- Avoid bingeing daily on Mexican cinnamon
- Buy authentic Canela from Mexico
- Kids and pregnant women take extra care
- Talk to your doctor if concerned
Overall, Mexican cinnamon can be safely enjoyed just like other cinnamon varieties. The spicy flavor makes it easy to use small amounts that should pose no health risk.
With its rich, spicy-sweet warmth, Mexican cinnamon delivers bolder flavor than regular cinnamon. While not extremely hot, Canela de Mexico provides a distinct kick of spice from its high levels of essential oils and coumarin.
Mexican cinnamon is perfectly suited for beverages, moles, desserts, produce, and snacks in authentic Mexican cooking. Look for authentic brands imported from Mexico for the best quality and experience this aromatic spice.
Used in moderation, Mexican cinnamon can be safely enjoyed with minimal health risk. Allow its unique spice to transform your kitchen and bring new depths of flavor to your recipes.