Saigon cinnamon is a common marketing term for Vietnamese cinnamon. It is not grown anywhere near Saigon—it comes from the bark of a tree native to the mountains of Central and Northern Vietnam. The improper moniker is commonly attributed to Saigon, as it's the largest and most widely-known city in Vietnam.
For aficionados of cinnamon, based on either its taste or its aroma, Saigon cinnamon is frequently their top choice. It is generally considered to be the best cinnamon in the world based on its high concentration of oil, which provides its pungent fragrance and intense sweet taste. The oil concentration is reportedly so high in Saigon cinnamon that a stick of it will spark when exposed to a flame.
Cinnamon is commonly regarded as having a subtle sweetness that is normally overpowered by a bitter spiciness. Vietnamese cinnamon is generally so sweet it can be eaten like candy, and its spiciness is often judged to be full-bodied without a hint of bitterness. It is frequently preferred by cooks to enhance savory dishes such as meats, soups and stews.
Fresh bark off the Vietnamese cinnamon trees is customarily prized by local children who wait for the farmers to descend from the mountains with the harvest. They reportedly chew on the soft bark, which actually resembles candy with its maroon colored interior and lightly speckled exterior. The taste of the bark is regularly compared to that of commercially produced red hot candies.
Purchasers of Saigon cinnamon are normally cautioned to be aware of imposters. Some merchants reportedly mix in inferior strains of cinnamon to increase their profits. Buying the cinnamon in the traditional long strips of curled bark rather than chips is recommended as a deterrent to buying substandard varieties.
For those with sophisticated palates, tasting the cinnamon easily distinguishes the Vietnamese variety from the others. If it does not have the sweetness of red hot candies, it is likely not authentic Vietnamese cinnamon. Experienced buyers of the spice often recommend that purchasers in the Vietnamese marketplace pretend to know the difference between cinnamon to encourage the vendors to bring the good stuff out from the backroom.
If Saigon cinnamon is purchased outside of Vietnam, consumers are urged to look for a seal or other proof of authenticity before buying it. Dealing with a reputable spice merchant is generally recommended. Online bulletin boards and chat rooms devoted to culinary topics can often provide reliable Internet sources from which to purchase authentic Vietnamese cinnamon.