Cinnamon is one of the most delicious and aromatic spices in the world. It is also a favorite of almost everyone. Cinnamon can be used in a huge variety of dishes including bakes, mulled wine, curries, and casseroles.
Cinnamon is surprisingly versatile but it is mostly used during Christmastime. The slightly sweet and slightly smoky smell of this spice is warming and wholesome. For a lot of people, when they smell cinnamon, they smell Christmas.
Cinnamon can be used in a huge variety of ways. And it is also used all across the world in so many dishes.
But, what can you do if you have used up all your cinnamon in your last batch of cookies and need to make more? Luckily, there are plenty of things you can use to replace cinnamon that you likely already have in your kitchen cupboard or spice rack.
And if you don’t enjoy the overall taste and texture of cinnamon (ground cinnamon doesn’t dissolve or mix well and can end up sitting as sediment).
So don’t worry, we’ve included a range of different spices to replace cinnamon. But also a way to include the flavor of cinnamon into your dish or drink, without the grittiness of the ground bark.
Here is our complete guide to using cinnamon and the best substitutes for cinnamon.
Origins of Cinnamon
Before we get into the best things to swap out cinnamon for, let’s go over exactly what cinnamon is and how it became such a popular seasoning in our food.
Cinnamon, as we have hinted at above, is a tree bark. You will likely have seen cinnamon sticks that look like little pieces of wood rolled up. This is because that is almost exactly what cinnamon is. It is always surprising when we see where food comes from, especially spices.
Cinnamon is harvested by scraping and pulling off layers of the inner bark of certain trees. There is not one specific kind of tree that cinnamon comes from. But all trees that produce cinnamon bark are from the tree genus Cinnamonum.
Cinnamon is mostly grown and produced in China and Indonesia. In 2018, China produced 30% of the world’s cinnamon supply. And Indonesia produced 40%.
History of Cinnamon Usage
Cinnamon has been used since ancient times. We don’t know exactly when it was first discovered and humans have likely been using it for millennia. What we do know is that cinnamon was imported to Egypt as early as 2,000 BCE.
Cinnamon, similarly to many other spices, was incredibly highly prized. It was often given as a gift to monarchs and was considered a rare and expensive substance.
Today, you can easily find cinnamon in your local grocery store. In fact, if you were to ask most people to name the first spice they can think of, they will likely say “cinnamon”.
Uses of Cinnamon
As we have already mentioned, cinnamon is hugely popular in dishes from around the world. It can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. Although, in the US, cinnamon is most commonly used in sweet dishes, especially during the winter months and around Christmastime.
Here is our brief rundown of the main ways cinnamon is used and what can be substituted. But, make sure to read on or scroll down for our in-depth guide for every kind of substitute for cinnamon.
Cinnamon in Sweet Dishes
Sweet dishes are the most popular for the addition of cinnamon. Cakes and other bakes are always made better with a dash of cinnamon. As are pancakes, waffles, and french toast. But there are so many other ways of getting the same aromatic warmth with other spices.
The best substitutes for cinnamon in sweet dishes are nutmeg, ginger, and allspice. If you have some, ready-made “pumpkin spice” powders are also a great option.
Pumpkin spice has become an expected feature of every autumn. Whether you deride it as “basic” or count down the days until the leaves begin to fall and you can get your first sip of a pumpkin spice latte.
But, pumpkin spice doesn’t actually have anything to do with pumpkins. Instead, it is primarily made up of spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and ginger.
So, if you can’t find any cinnamon or have run out, ready-made pumpkin spice seasoning should be the perfect replacement. Especially from September through December where you won’t be able to move for pumpkin spice.
Cinnamon in Savory Dishes
Cinnamon is less popular in savory dishes. But this is definitely to the detriment of these dishes.
Cinnamon is an amazing spice to use in curries, chillies, and casseroles. If you are trying to make a korma more flavorful but not any hotter, cinnamon is the perfect addition.
But what can you use if you don’t have cinnamon? The best substitutes for cinnamon in savory dishes include star anise, ginger, and cloves.
These ingredients all have a similar aromatic flavor to cinnamon. But are better suited to savory dishes due to their earthy and smoky flavors.
Cinnamon in Drinks
The drink in which cinnamon is most commonly used is mulled wine. But it is often used in hot chocolate, coffee, and tea.
Cinnamon is very warming and is great for your health. It is often used in hot chocolate as a flavoring. But it is also often used in coffee, especially black coffee, to improve the health benefits already found in black coffee.
But, unfortunately, cinnamon is most commonly sold in grounds. These grounds do not dissolve so they are not a great option for including in drinks.
One way to substitute the cinnamon grounds in coffee is by using cinnamon extract or cinnamon sticks. Although ground cinnamon is easier to come by and usually more aromatic. Cinnamon sticks are a great way of adding a flavor of cinnamon to something without having to filter out the grounds of tree bark.
Best Substitutes for Cinnamon
So, now you have an overview of the best ways to substitute cinnamon, here is our in-depth guide to the best substitutes.
Read on for the best substitutes, the best dishes to use them in, and the best ways to make them as close to cinnamon as possible.
Plus, just in case you’re trying to find a replacement as you cannot stand cinnamon but still want a spice with a smoky, sweet, and earthy flavor, we’ve also included all the ways in which certain spices aren’t like cinnamon.
Nutmeg is a spice that is rarely used alone. But it is very commonly used alongside cinnamon. It has, as the name suggests, quite a nutty flavor. But it still has the warming and aromatic flavor of cinnamon.
Nutmeg is great for both sweet and savory dishes. This is because of its nutty and almost peppery flavors. Nutmeg can be used in dishes such as curries. In much the same way as cinnamon. As cinnamon is often sold ground up in a powder, you can simply substitute the same amount of nutmeg for cinnamon.
Nutmeg is also great for sweet dishes. Nutmeg is a very similar spice to cinnamon. But it is still quite different from cinnamon.
Nutmeg has a sharper and deeper flavor than cinnamon. So it will potentially be necessary to add in some extra sugar or sweetener to the dish. This will balance out the sharpness of the nutmeg that isn’t present in cinnamon.
Unlike pieces of clove or star anise, nutmeg definitely cannot be used whole. Nutmeg is actually a seed that is ground down. From its outward appearance, it would be easy to mistake nutmeg for a walnut.
But, when it is opened, the inside of a nutmeg seed is solid. It is very rare to see nutmeg sold whole and in its natural state. This is because it is next to impossible to use like this. So, nutmeg is almost always sold in grounds.
Ginger is a spice that is often used in combination with cinnamon. But it is also used alone very often. Ginger can be sold fresh in its natural root form or dried and ground up.
If you want to use ginger to substitute cinnamon, then it’s best to buy it dried and ground up. For this, you can simply substitute the same amount of ground cinnamon for ground ginger.
But, although ginger can be used in both sweet and savory dishes, it has quite a different flavor from cinnamon. Whereas cinnamon has a rich and smoky flavor, ginger has a sharp and sweet flavor. So, if you want to accurately replace cinnamon with ginger, it’s a good idea to also add in some nutmeg or another spice as well.
Ginger, as we have already mentioned, can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. It can be used in its ground and dried state. But also in its fresh form. If you want a stronger flavor than ground ginger, fresh ginger is the way to go.
Fresh ginger can be bought in its strange and gnarled root shape. It is best used when peeled and grated directly into the food. Ginger has a very strong flavor so you will only need a very small amount compared to dried and ground ginger.
Ginger is also incredibly good for you. Ginger tea can help with nausea, calm you down, and boost your immune system. Shots of ginger juice or ginger water have become a fad in recent years.
People often down a shot of ginger every morning. This can wake you up and get you ready for the day. But it’s also a great way of giving your body a lot of the energy and antioxidants that it needs.
Cloves have a very strong flavor. If you have ever eaten a clove-spiced ham and accidentally eaten a piece, you will definitely have known about it. Unlike cinnamon, cloves should be removed from foods before they are served.
Cloves can be used in sweet dishes. But they are much better suited to savory dishes. Cloves can be used in dishes such as curries, meats, sauces, and chutneys.
Cloves have a very strong and sharp flavor. This is the best substitute if you’re looking for something aromatic and pungent but not too sweet.
Cloves are shaped almost like small black screws. Unlike cinnamon, it cannot be ground down. So cloves are sold whole. Also unlike cinnamon, whole cloves are relatively soft but they are also chewy.
They are not hard bark but rather soft flower buds. This makes them difficult to grind down but also difficult to chew and swallow.
Directly eating a clove will be far too strong and not at all pleasant. Cloves will add an aroma that will be much heavier than cinnamon.
Although cloves are usually sold whole, they can sometimes be sold in grounds. This is pretty rare but it is possible to find it if you really want to try it out.
Similarly to whole cloves, ground cloves are best used for savory dishes. Ground cloves can be used for flavoring meats, chilis, and curries. But, just make sure not to use too much. Even ground cloves can have a very intense flavor.
Star anise is often used in combination with cinnamon. It has a similar texture but is very different in shape. They are, as the name suggests, shaped like a star. The flavor of star anise is almost a cross between cinnamon and licorice.
The aniseed flavor of star anise, also suggested by its name, adds something a little different than cinnamon. The flavor is similar to cinnamon in terms of warmth and aroma. But it is different as it has a much sharper taste.
However, the aniseed flavor is not overpowering. It certainly won’t taste as though you have chopped up a licorice root for your curry.
Star anise is a great addition to a savory dish as it doesn’t have a particularly sweet flavor. The flavor can be used in sweet dishes.
But the style in which it is sold makes it difficult to include. Star anise is sold in its solid star shape and is rarely found ground. This means that, similarly to cloves, star anise need to be removed from foods before they are eaten.
Eating star anise isn’t bad for you. But, similarly to cloves, they have a very strong flavor that is not particularly pleasant when they are bitten into.
This might be a bit of a surprising inclusion. But, if you have read through some other options, you will realize just how many different dishes cinnamon is used in. There is a pretty good chance that you have eaten cinnamon in certain dishes without even knowing it. This will most likely be in curries and chilis.
So, with these kinds of dishes in mind, cardamon seems like a much less surprising option. Cardamom doesn’t quite have the same flavor as cinnamon. But it does have the same kind of warmth and aromatic flavoring. This means that it is a great ingredient to include in curries.
Cardamom is almost always sold in pods. This means that they can be quite intense if eaten whole. If you include them in a dish, such as a curry, it’s a good idea to try and fish them out if you can. But, the pods are quite small so this can be difficult.
This means you might end up chewing one or two. Cardamom pods are spicy and warm, similarly to cinnamon, but they have a sharper taste. This means that it’s not the most pleasant flavor when eaten directly.
Surprisingly, cardamom can also be used in sweet dishes. As it isn’t sold ground, it can’t be used in exactly the same way as cinnamon. You definitely won’t be using cardamom pods to flavor French Toast or ice cream.
But, if you’re looking for a cinnamon substitute that will make a warm and spicy cake, then you absolutely need to try cardamom. Unlike cinnamon, cardamom doesn’t have quite the same seasonal association as cinnamon does for Fall and Christmastime. But cardamom is a great spice to use in a warming fall or winter cake.
Cardamom can be used along with apples and pears. Similarly to other seasonal spices. But, you can also eat cardamom in dishes during the summer. This means that it can also be used with other seasonal fruits such as peaches.
Cardamom isn’t quite the same as cinnamon. But it is just as versatile. It’s just versatile for different dishes.
Allspice, despite its name, is actually only one specific kind of spice. Allspice is not a combination of spices as “5 Spice” or other spice seasonings are.
Allspice is also known as “Jamaica pepper”, “myrtle pepper”, “pimenta”, or “pimento”. Unlike other substitutes on this list, allspice is not a seed nor a root but a berry. Allspice is made from drying out and grinding down the unripe berry of the Pimenta plant.
Allspice is most commonly found, like cinnamon, dried out and ground up. But it can also be bought dried in its natural berry shape. This means that you can easily substitute in ground cinnamon for ground allspice.
But it can also be used as a removable flavoring in the same way cinnamon sticks, cloves, and star anise.
Pumpkin Spice Seasoning
As we have mentioned above, pumpkin spice seasoning doesn’t really have anything to do with pumpkins.
Pumpkin spice seasoning, as you would imagine, is best suited to sweeter dishes. This is because of the mixture of spices but also because most pumpkin spice seasoning will likely have sugar or sweeteners added in.
Pumpkin spice seasoning usually includes cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and other similarly warm and aromatic spices. This means that it might even be a better alternative for cinnamon.
It will add something slightly different to your dishes. The different spices included will provide an even more intense, sweeter, and aromatic flavor.
Pumpkin spice products are primarily sweet. These include coffee, desserts, cakes, and chocolate. So, if you’re looking for an easy way to add some sweetness and spice to a dish, ready-made pumpkin spice seasoning is the way to go.
Pumpkin spice gets a bad reputation for being “basic” or boring. But it’s a super easy way to add lots of complex spices and flavors to a dish. It’s definitely not something to ignore just because it is often mocked.
This is a great way to add in the flavor of cinnamon without having to use the physical grounds or sticks.
Grounds cannot be dissolved and sticks need to be removed. So neither are appropriate for adding into coffee, mousses, or other dishes that don’t require baking or need cinnamon added but cannot later be removed.
Extracts are an easy (if somewhat artificial) way of adding flavor to a dish. Cinnamon extract will be best suited to sweet dishes and bakes. This is because cinnamon extract will have a concentrated flavor. This means that it won’t have quite the same heavy and aromatic flavor that fresh cinnamon will provide.
Cinnamon extract also won’t provide you with the health benefits that fresh natural cinnamon does. This is because it has been concentrated.
Cinnamon extract contains some aspects of fresh cinnamon. But it will also include other ingredients such as preservatives. These aren’t necessarily bad for you. But they will impact the flavor.
Although cinnamon is one of the most versatile and popular flavors and spices, it isn’t found in extract form very often.
So you might need to visit a baking and cooking store to find this. You likely won’t find it in the baking aisle of your local grocery store next to the vanilla extract.
Cassia, also often called “Chinese cinnamon”, is a close relative of the more traditional and well-known cinnamon.
It is also often sold in bark form as cinnamon is. This will sometimes look similar to the rolls of cinnamon bark.
But it is also commonly sold in small strips of bark. This is more similar to the bark you would see on most other trees, such as an oak.
Cassia can also sometimes be sold in grounds. This is a great option if you can’t seem to find any cinnamon but need a very close substitute.
Overall, cinnamon is one of the easiest flavors and spices to substitute. There are lots of different spices that have a similar flavor and aromatic essence to cinnamon.
These can be used as a direct substitution. But they are best used in combination with each other.
For example, ginger and nutmeg will balance each other out and provide a better substitution than using one individually.
The best substitution for cinnamon is allspice or nutmeg. These are the spices which are closest in both flavor and overall versatility. They are also both very aromatic and warming.
But, if you’re looking for a spice that will provide you with the health benefits associated with cinnamon, then ginger is the way to go. In fact, ginger has even more health benefits than cinnamon.
But it has a sharper, almost zesty flavor compared to cinnamon. So it’s best used in combination with nutmeg or allspice.