Monday, September 21, 2009


You know what gets on my nerves? When foods aren't quite what they seem.

For example, take cinnamon.
What most of us use as "cinnamon" is really Cinnamomum cassia rather than Cinnamomum zeylanicum, or true cinnamon. C.cassia is less expensive and far more common than true cinnamon and is stronger in flavor. But it bothers me that it's called cinnamon. Sure, they share a common genus, but they are different species. Think that doesn't make a big difference? Well, think about the difference between weed and hemp- same genus, different species. Or the difference between a Jungle cat and a sweet little house kitten.

Then there are currants.
When sold fresh, currants are really currants. But when dried, you'll usually be buying "zante currants" which are actually just little grapes dried. The twist is that the little grapes claimed the name "currants" first! So I'm not sure which name is really correct.

And yams.
Unless you're reading this in South America or Africa, you probably don't really have any yams in your supermarket. What we call yams in the South, the orange fleshed sweet and starchy tubers, are really just another variety of sweet potato. You'll know the difference because true yams have a dark skin and can be about 7 feet long!

And tea.
A tea is only a tea if it's from the camillia sinensis plant. Black tea, green tea and white tea all qualify. But "red tea" is really a whole different plant and should be called rooibos. "Herbal teas" are herbal tisanes or infusions.

I'm sure there are plenty more examples of this type thing in the food supply. Things I'll think of as soon as I post this.


Catherine said...

The "yam" thing has always bugged me -- it's a friggin' sweet potato, people!

Although, I think I may have seen some true yams from one of the Asian vendors at the Farmer's Market on Saturday . . . they looked like uber-long sweet potatoes! Maybe? I didn't think to ask. Drat!

Vegetation said...

They annoy me too. Especially the cinnamon! I recently forked out a whole lot of extra money for some organic cinnamon and it really does taste different!

The Voracious Vegan said...

Huh. I had no idea about this stuff! You learn something new every day...thanks!

Aimee said...

Did you see the recent Saveur magazne? They have a whole article about cinnamon and its relatives. There are a lot of different types of cinnamon (or cassia). Very interesting.

Janine Serresseque said...

Real cinnamon was a revelation for me! The yam thing has always confused me--thanks for the clarification!