Ceylon or Cassia: Cinnamon Benefits Depend on Variety?Updated: January 25, 2018 Natural Remedies
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.
How Cassia and Ceylon Cinnamon Benefit Health
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.
Are Warnings against Cassia cinnamon Overblown?
Yes, they most definitely 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:
- Loss of appetite
- Seasonal herbal allergy relief (cassia only)
- Nausea and indigestion
- The common cold, sore throat remedy, and sinus blockage
And, don’t forget that fresh cinnamon whether Ceylon or Cassia is just plain delicious! One of my favorite ways to enjoy it is freshly grated and then sprinkled on top of a red rooibos latte.
I also sprinkle some fresh cinnamon into a breakfast smoothie. This really seems to help keep blood sugar steady and diminish carb cravings if the day promises to be a stressful one. Anyone else get carb cravings when stressed? I’m sure I’m not the only one! Another plus: early research indicates that cinnamon helps weight loss too.
The REAL Issue: Ceylon vs Cassia Cinnamon
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.
Yes, you read that right. Almost all cinnamon on the shelf is YEARS old, not even months!
Stale cinnamon = cinnamon of reduced flavor and health benefits
The simple and inexpensive remedy for this problem?
Grinding 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 to the world. At last, we can experience the many cinnamon benefits both for our health and our palate.
Sarah, The Healthy Home Economist
Disclosure: The post above was sponsored by Cinnamon Hill, however, the research, thoughts and opinions expressed are my own based on my personal use of the products discussed.