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Question: What kind of cinnamon did they use in period?

Short Answer: There's no way to be sure.

Long Answer:

Cinnamon is a rather tricky spice because there are a bunch of different, related spices that are all referred to by that name.

Ceylon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum or sometimes Cinnamomum verum): also referred to as "True Cinnamon". This cinnamon is the preferred variety in Europe and Mexico. It is milder than Cassia, but has a more subtle and complex flavor. The dried, unripe berries of this plant are sold as "Cassia buds".

Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia): also known as "Chinese Cinnamon". This is what is sold as Cinnamon in the United States (the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 permits spice traders to label cassia as cinnamon). Cassia was often referred to as "Canelle" in medieval English and French cookbooks.

Indonesian Cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii): also known as "Korintje Cinnamon". This cinnamon is not quite as strong as Cassia.

Vietnamese Cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureirii): Of the different kinds of cinnamon, this is the strongest.

In the glossary of his translation of The Viandier of Taillevent, Terence Scully has the following definitions:

canelle, cannelle: common cinnamon from cassia bark or buds

pouldre de canelle: a finer cinnamon, also called cynamome

fleur de canelle: (ground) cassia bark or buds

cynamome: a fine type of cinnamon from cinnamon bark (cf. the Tractatus (II, §11), which distinguishes between cynamomum and canellam: "Ad homines simplices et mediocres sufficiat ... canella")

From this there is the implication that canelle was Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia) and cynamome was Cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum). This is further supported by the recipes below, where both canelle and cinnamon appear, and therefore are unlikely to refer to the same spice.

Cliij - Pompys. Take Beef, Porke, or Vele, on of hem, and raw, alle to-choppe it atte the dressoure, than grynd hem in a morter as smal as thou may, than caste ther-to Raw 3olkys of Eyroun, wyn, an a lytil whyte sugre: caste also ther-to pouder Pepyr, and Macys, Clowes, Quybibys, pouder Canelle, Synamoun, and Salt, and a lytil Safroun; then take and make smale Pelettys round y-now, and loke that thou haue a fayre potte of Freysshe brothe of bef or of Capoun, and euer throw hem ther-on and lete hem sethe tyl that they ben y-now; then take and draw vppe a thryfty mylke of Almaundys, with cold freysshe brothe of Bef, Vele, Moton, other Capoun, and a-lye it with floure of Rys and with Spycerye; and atte the dressoure ley thes pelettys .v. or .vj. in a dysshe, and then pore thin sewe aneward, (Note: on it) and serue in, or ellys make a gode thryfty Syryppe and ley thin (Note: Thine) pelettys atte the dressoure ther-on, and that is gode seruyse. [emphasis added]

Source: Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books, T. Austin (ed.)

For to make wardens in Conserue. Fyrste make the syrope in this wyse, take a quarte of good romney and putte a pynte of claryfyed honey, and a pounde or a halfe of suger, and myngle all those together over the fyre, till tyme they seeth, and then set it to cole. And thys is a good sirope for manye thinges, and wyll be kepte a yere or two. Then take thy warden and scrape cleane awaye the barke, but pare them not, and seeth them in good redde wyne so that they be wel soked and tender, that the wyne be nere ha nde soked into them, then take and strayne them throughe a cloth or through a strayner into a vessell, then put to them of this syrope aforesayde tyll it be almost fylled, and then caste in the pouders, as fyne canel, synamon, pouder of gynger and such other, and put it in a boxes and kepe it yf thou wylt and make thy syrope as thou wylt worke in quantyte, as if thou wylt worke twenty wardens or more or lesse as by experience. [emphasis added]

Source: A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye, Catherine Frances (ed.)

In contradiction of the above, in the recipe below there is a clear implication that cinnamon (or at least some cinnamon) is considered to be canelle.

Recipe VI [K6]. Quomodo temperetur salsum dominorum et quamdiu durat. Man skal takæ gørfærs naghlæ, oc muscat, cardemomum, pipær, cinamomum thæt ær kaniæl, oc ingifær, allæ iæfn wæghnæ, tho swa at kaniæl ær æm mykæt sum allæ hinæ andræ; oc slyk to stekt brøth sum allæ hinæ andræ, oc støtæ them allæ samæ, oc malæ mæth stærk ædykæ oc latæ i en læghæl. Thæt ær hærræ salsæ, oc ær goth et halft aar. [emphasis added]

Recipe VI [K6]. How to prepare a sauce for the lords and how long it lasts. One takes cloves and nutmeg, cardamom, pepper, cinnamon - that is canel - and ginger, all in equal amounts, except that there should be as much canel as all the other spices; and add twice as much toasted bread as of everything else, and grind them all together, and blend with strong vinegar, and place it in a cask. This is a lordly sauce, and it is good for half a year. [emphasis added]

Source: Libellus De Arte Coquinaria, Vincent F. Cuenca (trans.), Rudolf Grewe (ed.), Constance B. Hieatt (ed.)

The matter is not at all clear for other texts. Both spices were grown in southeast Asia and both were imported into Europe in period, and since they're very closely related it is very easy to confuse the two. One can also easily imagine that the two were sometimes mixed together by spice merchants, and that the quality of either could vary greatly due to the amount of time it took to get them from the far east to Europe.

If the above wasn't confusing enough, a quick check of two early dictionaries completely fails to shed any light on the subject.

Canelle: f. (Our moderne cannell, or cinnamon (Looke Cinnamome)

Cinnamome: f. Cinnamon: (Some learned men are of opinion, that the true Cinnamon of the Ancients (being a wood, and not, as ours, the barke of a tree) is hardlie to be found at this day; and that the rinde, or barke, which we commonly hold to be Cinnamon, is much inferior unto it, and should rather be tearmed, Cassia, and Canella.)

Source: A Dictionarie of the French and English Tongues, R. Cotgrave (1611)

Canellàre, to Cinnamond.

Cannella, a litle cane, reede or pipe. Also a flute or recorder. Also a tap or spiggot. Also the arme-bone of a man. Also the spice Cinnamond.

Cannellàta, a kind of Cinnamond meat.

Cassia, the drug Cassia or Canell.

Source: Queen Anna's New World of Words, J. Florio (1611)

From these definitions it can be inferred that either the French and the Italians didn't make much of a distinction between the types of cinnamon, or that the English dictionary maker didn't.

Appearance of Canelle in some Period Sources:

Forme of Cury (1390):

For To Boile Fesauntes
Connynges In Cyrip
Leche Lumbard
Vyannd Ryal
Balloc Broth
Pur Fait Ypocras
Conynggys in Gravey
For to Make Bruet of Lombardye
For to Make Fruturs
For to Make Rosee
For to Make a Gely
For to Make Rapy
For to Make Lamprey Fresch in Galentyne
For To Make Tartys Of Fysch Owt Of Lente
For To Make Rapee
For To Make A Balourgly Broth

Liber cure cocorum (ca. 1430):

Chekyns in cretene
Þandon for wylde digges
Breuet de almonde
For to make a compost
For to boyle fesawantes and pertryks
Lamprayes in galentine
For to make momene
Sawce best for capons rostyd
Sawce camelyne
Filetus in Galentine
For stondand fygnade
For wesels

Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books (ca. 1430):

Beef y-Stywyd
Wardonys in syryp
Fylettys en Galentyne
Smale Byrdys y-stwyde
Nomblys of the venyson
Soupes dorye
Soupes Jamberlayne
Brawn en Peuerade
Auter brawn en peuerade
A potage on a Fysdaye
Brewes in Lentyn
A potage colde
Caudel Ferry departyd with a blamanger
Lampreys in galentyn

A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye (mid-16th c.):

For to make wardens in Conserue

Appearance of Cinnamon in some Period Sources:

Two Fifteenth-Century Cookery-Books (ca. 1430):


A Proper newe Booke of Cokerye (mid-16th c.):

To dresse a Crabe
To Rooste Veneson
Chekins upon Soppes
To make cleare Jellye
To make pyes of grene apples
To make vautes
To make pescoddes
To Stewe Trypes
To make a pye of alowes
To make a tarte of beanes
To make a tarte of medlers
To make a stewe after the guyse of beyonde the sea
To make egges in moneshyne
To make Applemoyse
For to make wardens in Conserue