Ceylon or Cassia? Cinnamon Benefits Not a Matter of Variety

by Sarah Healthy LivingComments: 27

fresh ceylon and cassia cinnamon

Throw everything you *think* you already know about cinnamon out the window.

I’ll admit, until recently, I thought I knew the lowdown about cinnamon benefits too.

You know what I mean … the blah blah blah that Ceylon cinnamon is the only true cinnamon and the Cassia (Chinese) cinnamon sold in stores is merely a cheap impostor and even dangerous to consume.

Turns out, this “fake” versus “real” cinnamon discussion is nothing but a red herring.

The topic of cinnamon benefits to health is much more subtle, and yes, vitally important, than black and white arguments about its authenticity or lack thereof.

In this article, I’m going to break it all down for you in a simple, straightforward manner and explain the nuances of the cinnamon discussion for your consideration.

The conclusion I think you will arrive at, which is what seems most logical, at least to me, is that the cinnamon you are using is really not what you are looking for – regardless of whether it is of the Cassia or Ceylon variety.

The Illustrious History of Cinnamon

Cinnamon has been used by humans for thousands of years, as early as 2000 B.C.  The Old Testament even mentions cinnamon benefits within the context of an anointing and perfuming oil.

Cinnamon was considered a status symbol and luxury item in Europe in the Middle Ages, where it was transported via cumbersome land routes by Arab traders.

Covetous of this elusive and fragrant spice, the Portuguese discovered Ceylon cinnamon in present day Sri Lanka around 1518 and conquered the island nation, effectively locking up control of the cinnamon trade for over a century.

The Dutch defeated the Portuguese in 1638 to gain control of the cinnamon trade for the next 150 years, but by 1800, cinnamon was no longer expensive and rare as it had begun to be cultivated elsewhere in the world.  In addition, Cassia, or Chinese cinnamon which has a very similar flavor, began to rival Ceylon cinnamon in popularity.

The Modern Cinnamon Trade

While there are literally hundreds of types of cinnamon, only four basic varieties are available commercially today. These are Ceylon Cinnamon, Cassia or Chinese Cinnamon, Saigon Cinnamon and Korintje Cinnamon.

Ceylon cinnamon is produced in Sri Lanka and widely used in Europe, while Chinese cinnamon is usually produced in Indonesia and the primary cinnamon found in North America.  Saigon and Korintje cinnamon are of the Cassia type with only slight variations in color, taste, and shape to common Chinese cinnamon. Saigon is the most potent of the Cassia cinnamons.

Ceylon cinnamon is valued for its mild, sweet flavor while Cassia cinnamon is stronger tasting and cheaper to produce.  There are also texture differences in the bark with Cassia harder, redder and more difficult to grate without splintering due to the staleness of commercially available cinnamon even if organic.

Cinnamon Benefits Health No Matter the Variety

While there are definitely color, taste and texture variations between Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon, the health differences are minor unless you plan to consume excessively large amounts every single day.

Ceylon cinnamon benefits are marketed as superior to cheaper Cassia cinnamon primarily due to Ceylon cinnamon’s ultra low levels of a chemical called coumarin.  Coumarin is an anti-coagulant of the blood (think coumadin, the drug of a similar name which is a blood thinner).

A lot of internet hay has been made out of the liver toxicity of coumarin in Cassia cinnamon, but the truth is that the risk is so low as to be virtually nonexistent

For example, the median lethal dose of coumarin is set at 275 mg/kg of body weight. In addition, there is only .31g – 6.97 g of coumarin in each kg of Cassia cinnamon. This means that for my size, I would have to ingest at least 2.24 kilograms of Cassia cinnamon (Saigon) and 50.3 kilograms of Chinese Cassia Cinnamon in a single day to be in any danger.

Do the warnings against Cassia cinnamon now seem ridiculous and overblown?

They are.

What’s more, according to Medscape, the numerous research studies on cinnamon benefits for glycemic control for those with Type 2 Diabetes show the most favorable data for Cassia cinnamon varieties, not Ceylon, or “true” cinnamon.

Does this mean that Cassia, or Chinese cinnamon most commonly found in North America is better than Ceylon?

Of course not!

Cinnamon benefits to health go far and beyond its promise as a helpful addition to the diet to facilitate blood sugar control

Cinnamon has been used medicinally in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years.  In addition to its use as a spice, both Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon varieties have been used historically to treat a variety of ailments such as:

  • Headaches
  • Loss of appetite
  • Seasonal allergy relief (cassia only)
  • Nausea and indigestion
  • The common cold and sinus blockage
  • Inflammation
  • Wounds
  • Infections
  • Diarrhea

So What’s the REAL Issue with Cinnamon Then?

The real issue with cinnamon, then, is not whether it is of the Ceylon or Cassia varieties.  Buy whichever one you prefer (I personally love the fiery flavor of Saigon cinnamon) and use the appropriate variety for the dish that is being served – the sweet, subtle flavor of Ceylon for dessert dishes and the stronger potency of Cassia cinnamon for savory fare would be my suggestion.

Obtaining the numerous cinnamon benefits to health which have been known for centuries and are finally being studied, identified and acknowledged by science is far easier than you might think.

The key to cinnamon is its freshness!

The sobering truth is that the cinnamon in your pantry is stale, probably years old and of little potency no matter if you bought Ceylon or Cassia.

Stale cinnamon = cinnamon of reduced flavor and health benefit 

The simple and inexpensive remedy?

cinnamon grater plus fresh sticks_miniGrinding fresh cinnamon sticks yourself in a matter of seconds using the beautifully designed cinnamon grater pictured to the right from Cinnamon Hill, the only one of its kind on the market.

Cinnamon Hill also offers both Ceylon and Saigon cinnamon (my favorite) where the package is stamped not with a “use by” date far into the future like all the stale ground cinnamon and cinnamon sticks on the market, but with a “harvested” date so you know *exactly* how old your cinnamon is when it reaches your kitchen.

For example, Cinnamon Hill’s Saigon cinnamon available in September 2014 was harvested in July 2014 and the Ceylon cinnamon was harvested in August 2014.   Anytime you order, you can rest assured that the cinnamon you choose is as fresh as you could wish for.

Note that electric spice grinders don’t work with fresh Saigon cinnamon, the most potent and high in essential oils of the Cassia cinnamon varieties, and a simple microplane won’t work on fresh, delicate Ceylon cinnamon.

The good news is that Cinnamon Hill’s gorgeous cinnamon grater is so simple and easy to use that you can grate some fresh cinnamon right at the table into your bowl of morning oatmeal.   No mess and no cut fingers like with ordinary graters.

Taste and Feel the Fresh Cinnamon Difference for Yourself

Don’t take my word for it, though. Try out the freshly ground cinnamon difference for yourself. I would suggest the Jet Set for Starters which comes with a funky plastic-moulded grater and two individually wrapped sample sticks, one of Ceylon and one of Saigon. Ideal for first time buyers.

I have the Cinnamon Lovers Grater Pack which comes with a packet each of Ceylon and Saigon sticks plus the beautiful, carved honey-oak grater and ceramic cup that you can see above.

My new habit is to keep a stick of Saigon cinnamon next to my computer and I suck on it (I *love* the taste of cinnamon) or take a nibble if I’m feeling overworked or having a sugar craving from the stress.  That little bit of fresh cinnamon on my tongue is completely satisfying and energizing.

I also enjoy it grated into my bowls of cream and fruit or on my morning oatmeal.  What a difference freshness makes!

It makes all the difference actually  … we just never knew what we were missing!

Thank you Cinnamon Hill for making these incredible products available so all of us can at last experience the innumerable cinnamon benefits both for our health and our palate.

Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

 

Sources:

Cinnamon’s Spicy History

Potential Cinnamon Benefits for Type 3 Diabetes, Medscape

Types of Cinnamon

Cinnamon Hill

Disclosure:  The post above was sponsored by Cinnamon Hill, however, the research, thoughts and opinions expressed are my own and never those of a third party or advertiser.

Comments (27)

  • Geraldine Vaccaro

    You should know that Coumarin is definitely NOT Coumadin a blood thinner…..Both are toxic…..Cassia cinnamon has large amounts of Coumarin which will result in liver damage or liver failure.
    I have been taking ONE tspn of Ceylon Cinnamon in my morning oatmeal against blood pressure for quite some time…..I ground my own from sticks. It also takes away any craving for sweets or chocolate.
    There is a BIG difference between Cassia Cinnamon and Ceylon Cinnamon. One might wonder why in Europe it is only Ceylon Cinnamon that is available whereas here in the U.S it the the far cheaper Cassia Cinnamon…..

    May 8th, 2016 7:31 pm Reply
  • MiserableOldFart

    The stick cinnamon is usually from young branches, and I’ve read that its not as strong as the stuff that is ground from chunks from the bark of the trunk and limbs. So while it may be a bit fresher, it’s likely weaker to start with.

    February 2nd, 2016 4:28 pm Reply
  • Bruce Tyler

    I take HBP medications and use cinnamon/honey on bread, as well as on my cereal. My blood sugar level has decreasd and hbp has lowered. Due to the fact that i am taking the medication at the same time, it is hard to know which is working. But! I am not stopping the medication until my doctor says so. In either case, I am not stopping taking cinnamon.

    October 26th, 2015 12:32 am Reply
  • Coco

    I’m not too familiar with all this cinnamon information and the studies that have taken place on them…but I was wondering if- could cassia cinnamon be dangerous to digest in a piece of gum? Or is it such a little amount that it doesn’t matter? I’m hoping someone can answer my question.
    Thanks:-)

    July 17th, 2015 8:55 am Reply
  • Jason Woodrow

    Thanks for the article, I’ve been reading up on this subject. The problem I’m seeing in your logic is that you are only looking at the acute lethal dosage rather than the tolerable daily intake (TDI) published by NIH. Damage can happen at much lower levels than the lethal dose, particularly over time (much like chronic use of alcohol). A 2010 study notes the TDI of coumarin to be 0.1mg/kg of body weight, much lower than the lethal dose (Abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20024932). iFood.tv says that 1tsp of cinnamon has a mass of apx 6g.

    I weigh just about 100kg, so I would have a TDI of 10mg of coumarin per day. Given the high side estimate of 6.79g coumarin per kg of Cassia (or 6.79mg per g of Cassia), a single gram of Cassia per day could be approaching my TDI. But note that is a mere 1/6 of a teaspoon of Cassia. The low side would allow me up to about 1.5 Tablespoons. That tells me that I would be best off not using Saigon cinnamon.

    That said, I’ve polished off rather a lot of Saigon cinnamon in my time and don’t appear to be suffering any liver related issues. So I’m happy to know about the various kinds of cinnamon and am now trying out Ceylon and Korintje, but I don’t fear using Saigon in small amounts.

    Let me know if the math isn’t adding up, or if I missed something.

    March 28th, 2015 5:14 pm Reply
    • ditto

      Jason is on the money

      October 7th, 2015 3:02 pm Reply
    • Andre Bocancea

      0.1g /kg x 100kg = 10g not 1g
      Sorry I have to corect your math.

      March 24th, 2016 1:05 am Reply
  • Matt Grantham

    Sorry to post so many times on this issue. after a little further investigation it seems that studies do show cassia to be just as effective, or perhaps more so , in terms of health benefits. But I am still questioning the safety in terms of coumarin. here is one on studies that seems to call into question the safety of coumarin levels in cassia. apologies if this is contrarian, but I do believe i have an open mind on the subject and certainly willing to listen to different interpretations of this study, or to hear about other studies that show differently, thanks

    December 17th, 2014 9:11 am Reply
  • Matt Grantham

    I am really glad you have raised the topic. the circles you run with are different than mine since i have been struggling with a variety of experts and whole foods, etc to even acknowledge that there is a controversy. most people d not seem to be aware that there is more than one kind of cinnamon from what i have seen. We have heard however that numerous studies have taken place recently on cinnamon’s effects on blood sugar stability and some other issues. So I remain interested in identifying these studies and taking a little closer at the evidence from that vantage point. You make a good point about the seeming use of both of theses cinnamon’s in the orient and other cultures, but /i remain interested in the empirical results as well

    December 16th, 2014 11:46 pm Reply
  • Anna B

    What is the most important part of “freshness”? When it was harvested, or when it was grated?

    September 24th, 2014 1:43 pm Reply
  • Pingback: The Real Story Between Ceylon and Cassia Cinnamon | All Natural Home and Beauty

  • Annie Mott via Facebook

    Very timely, as I had a minor anxiety attack at the local co-op attempting to remember which cinnamon was best.

    September 23rd, 2014 6:19 pm Reply
  • Justin from Extreme Health Radio

    Wow Sarah who knew? It’s interesting because lately online I’ve been seeing all this talk about cinnamon and I often wondered “what’s the big deal?” but this was an awesome piece on everything cinnamon. And it’s perfect for this time of year. It doesn’t hurt that it goes oh so well with pumpkin! Thanks for sharing :)

    September 23rd, 2014 12:59 pm Reply
  • Kelly Howard

    Cinnamon is awesome as seasoning! BUT, when taken in large doses like a medicine it matters VERY much which you take! I have done substantial research on this and this is fact. Please update your post to reflect the correct information for those who take larges ‘doses’ of cinnamon daily like a medicine! Your post, as it currently stands, could cause someone harm without ALL the facts and situations included. Shalom.

    September 23rd, 2014 10:32 am Reply
    • Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      Hi Kelly, the double blind studies on cinnamon that have taken place so far using cinnamon as medicine use around 360 mg/day at the high end. That’s less than a single 1 gram capsule! This is a trivial amount of cinnamon and wouldn’t harm anyone even if Saigon cinnamon is used … the highest in coumarin by far as explained in the article. As explained in the post, an enormous amount of cassia cinnamon would need to be consumed for any toxicity to occur … amounts so large that no one would ever ingest that much. If you have some credible research about this please post.

      September 23rd, 2014 11:37 am Reply
      • Matt Grantham

        Hi Sarah- I just want o try to clarify my questions I do not have enough understanding to dispute what you have had to say about coumarin levels in cassia, and have no reason to question your conclusions in that regard. what i am still questioning is which studies have studied which type of cinnamon? And what do the differences show in terms of blood sugar control etc? also if people would consider using the terms cassia, ceylon, saigon etc instead of cinnamon as a generic term

        December 17th, 2014 8:38 am Reply
  • Patricia

    Guess it’s time I threw out my cinnamon powder – and the sticks!

    September 23rd, 2014 8:56 am Reply
  • Kathy

    Zowie! That’s expensive…how many grated tsp. could one get out of A stick of cinnamon? If a recipe calls for a tsp. of cinnamon, could you get away with less since it is so flavorful?

    September 23rd, 2014 8:36 am Reply
    • Sarah TheHealthyHomeEconomist

      Yes, fresh is quite powerful!

      September 23rd, 2014 11:39 am Reply
  • Cindy Abbott NMatt Freeman via Facebook

    Nancy, I know my hubby tends toward hypoglycemia. He started taking a small jelly jar of local honey mixed with cinnamon with him to work. When he started feeling “woozy”, he would take a spoonful, instead of buying a candy bar or something. It worked! And after some time, he was able to stop even doing the honey cinnamon mixture because he wasn’t bothered anymore!

    September 23rd, 2014 7:53 am Reply
  • Cindy Abbott NMatt Freeman via Facebook

    Thanks for sharing this, Sarah. I have read a few articles about this issue, touting Ceylon’s benefits (and, of course, it’s more expensive!). I’m glad we can use whichever!

    September 23rd, 2014 7:51 am Reply
  • Jenny S

    For my younger son, the idea of liver toxicity are very real. Just a dash of cassia cinnamon turns him jaundiced and messes with his liver enzymes. If it hadn’t been for an article pointing out that possibility I would have never contemplated removing it from his diet, reintroducing it, and then permanently removed it when we saw distinct skin tone and eye changes and we still would have no idea that it was causing his jaundice. So despite the calculated amount that should need to be ingested to cause liver issues, there are those who have issues with just a dash. My son may be a rarity for that reaction, but for that reason I don’t dismiss the possibility.

    September 23rd, 2014 2:51 am Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      Has this been confirmed by a physician? There is so little courmarin in a dash of cassia cinnamon as to be nonexistent.

      September 23rd, 2014 8:08 am Reply
  • Janet Michael Roten via Facebook

    Which kind grows in Mexico? We lived there and would peel the bark, which naturally rolls itself into the sticks of cinnamon.

    September 22nd, 2014 11:59 pm Reply
  • Belinda

    And how much cinnamon does one have to grate into a meal to get the benefits? I used to add 1/2 tsp of commercial organic cinnamon into my morning oatmeal everyday. Is it enough to just grate a couple sprinkles? Thanks!

    September 22nd, 2014 11:00 pm Reply
    • Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist

      Check out this study, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22749176

      The patients were divided into 3 groups, placebo, low dose and high dose. The low dose group received 120 mg/day and the high dose group 360 mg/day of cinnamon extract. The study’s conclusion is that that cinnamon supplementation is able to significantly improve blood glucose control in Chinese patients with type 2 diabetes. Both the low dose and high dose groups experienced significantly improved blood glucose levels.

      September 23rd, 2014 8:15 am Reply
  • Glenda Garcia via Facebook

    good to know..

    September 22nd, 2014 10:38 pm Reply

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