Not all cinnamon is the same, although all varieties come from the cinnamomum genus and are evergreen type trees. You will find Saigon cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon and Chinese cinnamon on in the marketplace. Saigon cinnamon -- sometimes referred to as Vietnamese cinnamon -- has some distinctive characteristics that set it apart from the other cinnamon varieties.
Saigon cinnamon, or cinnamomum loureirii, is considered the variety that has superior flavor and odor. Saigon cinnamon's main use is as a ground spice. U.S. spice importers also buy it in rough bark form and market it in America as "whole cinnamon." You often will find this type of cinnamon in processed foods and baked goods. Medicinally, it is marketed as a digestive stimulant and an astringent. Chinese cinnamon is primarily imported as an essential oil and used in perfumery and as a flavoring. Ceylon cinnamon is used as a flavoring for its essential oil and for extracted oleoresins, which also are used for flavoring, and as a source of eugenol.
Saigon cinnamon bark contains up to 6 percent essential oil, compared to .5 to 2.5 percent in other varieties. However, other varieties of cinnamon -- including Chinese cinnamon, also called cassia or Cinnamomum cassia, and Ceylon cinnamon, also called Cinnamomum verum or true cinnamon -- dominate the spice market, note John C. Roecklein and PingSun Leung, authors of "A Profile of Economic Plants."
Saigon cinnamon is native to the Saigon district in Vietnam, although trees also are grown in Japan and China. Ceylon cinnamon is grown in Brazil and the Seychelles. Chinese cinnamon is found in southeast Asia, where it often grows in the wild. Bark from the Saigon cinnamon tree is harvested when the tree is 10 to 12 years old. That's twice as old as Ceylon cinnamon, which is first harvested when trees are about five years old.
All of these cinnamon varieties have the same classification under U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the FDA specifies that Cinnamon N.F. is made from the dried bark of Saigon cinnamon. N.F. stands for national formulary. The formulary sets national pharmacopeial standards for dietary supplements, medicines and dosage forms.