Cinnamon is one of the most potent antioxidants in the world and is most certainly a superfood. Regular consumption of cinnamon can lower blood sugar, help digestion, ease arthritis, lower cholesterol and even ward off Alzheimer’s. However the type of cinnamon most commonly used, cassia, contains high levels of coumarin, which can spell trouble for the liver. If you are to maximize the medicinal value of cinnamon it must also be non-irradiated which will be labeled as such.
Valued in ancient times as currency and once considered more precious than gold, cinnamon — one of the world’s oldest known spices — has one of the highest antioxidant values of all foods.
Although related, cinnamon and cassia are not obtained from the same plant. They should be treated as separate foods, both from a nutritional and a health standpoint.
Scientifically speaking, there is only one true cinnamon, which is most commonly called “Ceylon cinnamon,” and comes from the plant Cinnamomum zeylanicum. An alternative scientific name for Ceylon cinnamon is Cinnamomum verum, which simply translates as “true cinnamon.”
The term “cassia” never refers to Ceylon cinnamon but rather to other species of cinnamon, including Cinnamomum cassia (alternatively called Cinnamomum aromaticaum) and Cinnamomum burmannii. While most simply referred to as “cassia,” you’ll often find Cinnamomum aromaticaum being referred to as “Chinese cinnamon” or “Saigon cinnamon,” and you’ll find Cinnamomum burmannii being called “Java cinnamon” or “Padang cassia.”
Ceylon cinnamon is typically more expensive than any of the cassia versions, and it is also the cinnamon more closely associated with potential health benefits involving blood sugar regulation. However, since both forms belong not only to the same family of plants (Lauraceae, the laurel family) but also to the same genus (Cinnamomum). They share many characteristics, and in some studies on rats and mice, the cassia cinnamons have shown blood sugar regulating ability as well.
What true cinnamon and cassia do not have in common is their coumarin content. Coumarins are naturally occurring plant components that can have strong anticoagulant properties. Because our blood needs to maintain its ability to coagulate in times of injury, excessive intake of coumarins over a prolonged period of time can pose health risks. While the level of naturally occurring coumarins in Ceylon cinnamon appears to be very small and lower than the amount that could cause health risks, the level of naturally occurring coumarins in the cassia cinnamons appears to be higher and may pose a risk to some individuals if consumed in substantial amounts on a regular basis. For this reason, organizations like the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Berlin, Germany have recommended that large amounts of the cassia cinnamons be avoided.
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry tested cinnamon commercially available in the U.S. and found “substantial amounts” of coumarin in cassia cinnamon, but only trace amounts of coumarin in Ceylon cinnamon. Research found that on average, cassia cinnamon powder had up to 63 times more coumarin compared to Ceylon cinnamon powder, while cassia cinnamon sticks contained 18 times more than Ceylon cinnamon sticks.
If you decide to use a lot of cinnamon, “you do need to use Ceylon because it will lower your risk of liver damage,” Angela Ginn, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics told The Wall Street Journal.
“From a safety point of view, Ceylon cinnamon is better,” concurs cinnamon researcher Ikhlas A. Khan, assistant director for the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi’s School of Pharmacy.
Unfortunately, there is no way to tell the difference between cinnamon powders that have been made from Ceylon/true cinnamon versus the cassia cinnamons. If you are buying cinnamon powder to use in a recipe, we recommend purchasing a cinnamon product that identifies the source of its cinnamon or calling the manufacturer to obtain this information.
In the case of stick cinnamon, however, there is one feature of the sticks you might want to look for in order to determine whether your cinnamon is true cinnamon or cassia cinnamon. That feature involves the texture of the sticks when you look downward at a stick so that you can see the end. When cinnamon sticks are rolled from the thick bark of the cassia plants, they look exactly as described – a one-piece, thick bark layer that does not show multiple layers of any kind. In the case of Ceylon cinnamon sticks (true cinnamon), since the plant bark is thinner, you may be able to see multiple layers of a thinner bark. That thinner layering of bark is one indication that your cinnamon sticks are made from true cinnamon. After finding true cinnamon sticks, of course, you can use a coffee grinder or a mortar and pestle to grind the sticks up into a powder.
When used in ordinary seasoning amounts occasionally in the diet, it is unlikely that you will face added health risks from the cassia cinnamons. We do not see a reason to avoid the cassia forms of this spice when consumed on this limited basis. However, if you are an avid cinnamon lover and likely to consume large amounts of cinnamon, we recommend Ceylon cinnamon (true cinnamon) as your best choice. Regardless of your Ceylon versus cassia decision, we always encourage you to purchase organic cinnamon, along with organic versions of all spices and seasonings.
Just like with other dried spices, try to select organically grown cinnamon since this will give you more assurance that it has not been irradiated (among other potential adverse effects, irradiating cinnamon may lead to a significant decrease in its vitamin C and carotenoid content.)
Cinnamon should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place. Ground cinnamon will keep for about six months, while cinnamon sticks will stay fresh for about one year stored this way. Alternatively, you can extend their shelf life by storing them in the refrigerator. To check to see if it is still fresh, smell the cinnamon. If it does not smell sweet, it is no longer fresh and should be discarded.
It takes not more than a half teaspoon of cinnamon powder every day to keep cancer risk away. A natural food preservative, cinnamon is a source of iron and calcium. Useful in reducing tumour growth, it blocks the formation of new vessels in the human body. Some of the effective ways of including cinnamon in your diet are:
-Start your day with a cup of cinnamon tea (in leaf or sachet)
-Make your breakfast meal a super healthy one; just add this wonder spice to your
morning oatmeal and you are going well!
-A fruity delight comprising chopped apples, a few walnuts and your magic potion cinnamon
-Honey and cinnamon in your glass of milk before going to bed; no cancer nightmares assured!