Know Your Cinnamon

Who doesn't love the taste and smell of cinnamon which is said to have one of the highest anti-oxidant levels of all food sources and can help remove the alfatoxins present in foods. It provides magnesium, fiber, calcium, iron, and vitamin K. However, did you know there are over a hundred varieties? Fortunately, there are only two you need to know about.

Where Does Cinnamon Come From?

Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of many different varieties of evergreen trees belonging to the genus species cinnamomum. These trees are native to South East Asia, Sri Lanka, and southwest India but are now grown in many warm, sunny areas. Cinnamon trees are typically grown for two to three years, and then trimmed using a method referred to as coppicing, which results in a dozen or more new shoots being formed the following year. Once the new shoots are ready for harvesting, the bark is peeled away from the tree and dried. As the bark dries, it naturally curls up into cinnamon's characteristic rolls that are called "quills."

Two Types Of Cinnamon

types of cinnamon

Ceylon cinnamon, also called “true cinnamon” or “Mexican cinnamon”, comes from the crumbly inner bark of the Cinnamomum zeylanicum tree. It’s a light brown with a sweet and delicate flavor with a note of citrus. The sticks are soft, crumbly and rolled like a cigar with layers of soft Cinnamon bark. The  sticks or quills have many thin layers and can easily be made into powder using a coffee or spice grinder Ceylon cinnamon is grown in Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Brazil, India, and the Caribbean. It is typically more expensive because of the hand crafted process needed to harvest it and more difficult to find than the cassia cinnamon varieties. Most of Europe, Mexico, and some parts of Asia use Ceylon Cinnamon.

"Ceylon Cinnamon is an absolute must because it is subtle, smells very mild and slightly sweeter in taste. It never takes center stage in the recipe but adds a very complex flavor and gives off a lovely deep aroma especially in baked goods.  Most recipes that call for Cinnamon came from Europe and should use Ceylon Cinnamon. The same applies to any Mexican recipes that call for Cinnamon. This is because the taste profile of these desserts were designed with Ceylon Cinnamon."       - Cinnamon Vogue

Cassia cinnamon, also called “Chinese cinnamon”, comes from the Cinnamomum cassia plant. It’s a darker, redder brown with a stronger, more pungent flavor with less sweetness. Cassia sticks are particularly hardy consisting of one thick layer rolled in both sides leaving a hollow tube.  Cassia is native to Burma and also grown in China and Vietnam. This closely related and less expensive variety is commonly found at your grocery store. In fact about 70% of North America uses Cassia Cinnamon because it is much cheaper.

Which One Is Better?

The critical difference between Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon is the coumarin content. Cassia contains high levels of coumarin (5 %) where Ceylon contains either undetectable levels or traces (0.4 %) of coumarin which is a naturally occurring toxin with the potential to damage the liver in high doses and was found to be carcinogenic in rodents. Recent studies have revealed that regularly consuming Cassia cinnamon powder could be problematic resulting in potentially harmful levels of coumarin intake. For example, one study estimated that small children eating oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon a few times a week would exceed the established safe upper limit of exposure. Similarly, they concluded that adults who are heavy consumers of culinary cinnamon or take powdered cinnamon supplements could also reach potentially unsafe doses.

The Healthy Benefits

Both types of cinnamon are excellent sources of the trace mineral manganese which is an important activator of enzymes essential to building healthy bones as well as other physiological processes, including carbohydrate and fat metabolism.  They are also both very good sources of dietary fiber, iron and calcium. The combination of calcium and fiber is thought to be helpful in reducing the risk of colon cancer and lowering cholesterol levels, and relieving constipation or diarrhea.

Following is a list of the many health benefits compiled by Cinnamon Vogue:

  • Blood Sugar Control – Several Studies have found that Cinnamon has properties that help those with insulin resistance and  is particularly popular because it has low levels of Coumarin compared to Cassia Cinnamon found in your grocery store.  Coumarin in high doses can cause liver damage.  In another study Ceylon Cinnamon was found to have an effect on blood sugar control in a rat model.
  • Candida Yeast Infections - Cinnamon has shown an amazing ability to stop medication-resistant yeast infections and that Cinnamon Oil was one of three leading essential oils effective against Candida.  Real Ceylon Cinnamon Tea infused with Cinnamon Bark Oil could be an excellent way to fight internal Candida infections and boost your immune system.
  • Stomach Bug/Flu - By far and away the best remedy for a horrible stomach bug is Cinnamon. It makes sense because Cinnamon is a powerful anti-bacterial. Research has shown Cinnamon is one of the most effective substances against Escherichia coli, Salmonella,  and Campylobacter.  
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) – As a digestive cinnamon dramatically reduces the uncomfortable feelings associated with IBS especially the bloating. It does this by killing bacteria and healing infections in the GI tract and enabling the gastric juices to work normally. If you have stomach cramps or upsets, a cup of Cinnamon tea 2-3 times per day will dramatically reduce the pain.
  • Cancer Preventer – Research shows that Cinnamon oil is a promising solution in the treatment of Tumors, Gastric Cancers and Melanomas. Research studies show that sugar may be causing or sustaining cancer cells and cinnamon may have a mitigating effect by controlling blood sugar levels in the body. Another study found good results with leukemia and lymphoma cancer cells. Cinnamon in its various forms has two chemical constituents called Cinnamaldehyde  and Eugenol (From Cinnamon Oil). These have been used to develop nutraceuticals in this study that have proven fairly effective in fighting Human Colon Cancer Cells (Eugenol) and Human hepatoma cells (Cinnamaldehyde). So the evidence seems to suggest that Cinnamon is starving cancer cells of the sugar needed to sustain them.
  • Arthritis/Osteoporosis – The widely cited Copenhagen university study is a hoax. Most of the evidence that Cinnamon helps arthritis is from personal testimonials. Some people claim drinking Cinnamon tea helps the pain from arthritis while others claim a Cinnamon Oil based massage oil helps ease the pain. What we do know is that Cinnamon has high levels (73% DV in two sticks of Cinnamon) of Manganese which is used to build bones, blood and other connective tissues, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. The body needs manganese for optimal bone health, so people who are deficient in the mineral are more likely to develop osteoporosis. Of course another factor causing Osteoporosis may be excessive dairy consumption. A study in 2008 found that Alderhyde components of Ceylon Cinnamon bark extract suppresses RANKL-induced osteoclastogenesis through NFATc1 down regulation.
  • Anti-Bacterial/Anti Microbial - Ceylon Cinnamon Leaf Oil is a powerful anti-bacterial and makes a great natural disinfectant. Cinnamon oil had the best anti microbial activity among three oils against Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus , Aspergillus oryzae , and Penicillium digitatum Dilute it with water to disinfect kitchen counter tops, sinks, your refrigerator, door knobs, toys and many other things. If you have young children and don't want to use harsh cancer causing chemicals use Cinnamon Oil. Cinnamon sticks are also a good anti bacterial but you would need a lot of it to make a difference. If you want a mild disinfect, like to wash your face, then a couple of Cinnamon sticks boiled in hot water might be an idea.
  • Food Preservative – Cinnamon is effective in inhibiting bacterial growth. This maybe one reason why it is widely used in food preparation in hot Asian countries. In Sri Lanka, virtually every dish has a pinch of Cinnamon in it. In addition to great flavor, Ceylon Cinnamon in combination with other spices like Turmeric and Chili may have been an indigenous solution to preserve food without a refrigerator. 
  • Odor Neutralizer – Pure Cinnamon Leaf oil not only smells great but is an effective odor neutralizer as it kills bacteria that creates the odor. All you need is 2-5 drops of Cinnamon leaf oil mixed with water on a diffuser and within minutes all odors are neutralized. It also has the effect of improving your mood. Especially great as a cure for the winter blues.
  • Alertness, Memory & Cognitive Development –  According to Dr. Bryan Raudenbush, Director of Undergraduate Research and associate professor of psychology at Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, WV. Cinnamon may keep you more alert and decrease your frustration when you are behind the wheel.  This hard to verify German study cited those taking Cinnamon improved their response times and memory recall. While not scientific, our personal experience suggests pretty good results in alertness and concentration.
  • Anti-oxidant – With an ORAC value of 267536 μmol TE/100g (USDA 2007) cinnamon is one of the top seven anti-oxidants in the world. The suggestion is that Anti-oxidants reduce the formation of " Free Radicals " that cause cancer repairing damage to virtually all parts of your body from skin to organs.
  • Weight Reducer – Cinnamon apparently has the effect of thinning your blood thereby increasing blood circulation. Increased blood flow generally boosts your metabolism which is why it may be helpful in weight loss. This blood thinning property of Cinnamon also helps it in acting as an anti clotting agent especially for those suffering from heart disease. However care must be taken to NOT to take it with other blood thinning medication. The main ingredient that causes your blood to thin is Coumarin which is present in high doses in Cassia Cinnamon (4%) but not in Ceylon Cinnamon (0.04%). However Coumarin causes liver damage. So taking Cassia Cinnamon for weight loss may end up causing liver damage.
  • Since Cinnamon increases insulin's capacity to metabolize sugar - cinnamon may help reduce hunger pains and sugar cravings, which could help reduce weight. Especially those who have diabetes and find it hard to lose weight. 
  • Massage Therapy – Cinnamon is a well known warming agent. Combined with a carrier oil it is highly effective in relaxing and relieving muscle pain. Some put a few drops in their bath to relax and to sooth tired and aching muscles.
  • Anti-Fungal – Got a bad case of athletes foot? It's powerful anti fungal properties are the perfect natural alternative to killing the athletes foot fungus.
  • E-coli Fighter – One of the most effective E-coli fighters because of its anti microbial properties. Mix cinnamon oil with hydrogen peroxide and spray your cutting board and kitchen sink especially after you have cut meats. Spray it in your refrigerator. It’s safe and natural.
  • Tooth Decay and Gum Disease – Again the anti-bacterial properties of Cinnamon play a crucial role in getting rid of harmful bacteria without damaging your teeth or gums. It’s one of the reasons that Cinnamon Oil is often used in chewing gums, mouthwashes, toothpaste and breath mints.
  • Insect Repellant – The anti microbial qualities of Cinnamon Leaf oil is often used for head lice treatment, black ant control, bed bugs, dust mites, and roaches. It is well known as a defense against mosquitoes'.
  • Cold, Sore Throat and Cough – At the first sign (within 5-10 minutes) of sniffles or an itch in your throat take some Cinnamon Tea or Cinnamon stick Tea. It is said to stop an impending illness in its tracks. Again this is related to the anti bacterial properties and warming properties of Cinnamon and its propensity to increase blood flow and thereby improve blood oxygen levels to fight illness. Chinese traditional medicine commonly recommends Cinnamon for phlegm coughs.
  • Alzheimer’s Disease – An Israeli study done at the University of Tel Aviv found sufficient evidence to conclude that Cinnamon can delay the effects of five aggressive strains of Alzheimer's inducing genes. Another study found that orally administered Cinnamon extract has had good success in correcting Cognitive Impairment in Alzheimer's Disease in Animal Models.  The latest findings indicate that two compounds found in cinnamon — cinnamaldehyde and epicatechin — may be effective in fighting Alzheimer's. According to a study by Roshni George and Donald Graves in 2013, two scientists at UC Santa Barbara, Cinnamon has been shown to prevent the development of the filamentous “tangles” found in the brain cells that characterize Alzheimer’s.
  • PMS - Again because of the high levels of Manganese Cinnamon may be an excellent candidate to mitigate the effects of PMS. According to the University of Maryland web site women who ate 5.6 mg of manganese in their diets each day had fewer mood swings and cramps compared to those who ate only 1 mg of manganese. These results suggest that a manganese rich diet may help reduce symptoms of PMS. Another clinical study found that 46 patients with PMS had significantly lower amounts of calcium, chromium, copper, and manganese in their blood. You should not consume more than 11 mg of Manganese per day (about 12 cinnamon sticks) according NYU. FDA guidelines establishes a daily value of 2mg (about 2 Cinnamon sticks).

Where to Buy Ceylon Cinnamon

As I mentioned when you purchase cinnamon in the grocery store it is most likely the cassia and not the Ceylon variety. However, Ceylon cinnamon can now be purchased in many health stores and online.

I have made the switch to ceylon cinnamon, have you?