Spice: Cinnamon – A Major Cin

true ceylon cinnamonAh, cinnamon. Whether it’s in our pastry or beverage, we absolutely love it. It is so popular that one probably has to live in another dimension to ever go without tasting it, much more hearing of it. So you definitely know that cinnamon smells good, and tastes even better.

But did you know that the spice you often smell and taste on the pie you’re eating or the tea you’re drinking has an interesting history? Read on.

Mystery of the Cinnamon Fish/Bird

Even the ancient peoples of the world loved cinnamon. Some even revered it. It was a gift fit for monarchs and for gods. Understandably, some enterprising spice traders kept the source of cinnamon a secret. We now know of course, that cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the island nation south of the Indian sub-continent.

But at the time of the ancients, spice traders were mum about where they were getting the special spice from. So protective were they of cinnamon that they were not above spinning a fantastic tale or two about where they actually got it. And people believed them. French medieval chronicler Jean de Joinville accepted a story that he was told that cinnamon came from the edge of the Earth, fished up from the sources of the Nile.

The wise historian Herodotus on the other hand believed that giant “Arabian Cinnamon Birds” made nests from sticks of cinnamon that they obtained from an unknown land. But eventually the truth got out about where cinnamon came from, and from then on the island of Sri Lanka became a favorite destination of the seafaring empires of the Portuguese, the Dutch, and the British.

Of course now we see cinnamon at almost any grocery store and spice shop, and most probably have the luxury of getting it on the cheap; unlike the people from the ancient times that must have paid through the nose for it. So if we wanted to put it on our food and drink, we can. And if we wanted to use it for medicinal purposes, well, yes we can!

In North America, folk names include Real Cinnamon, True Cinnamon, Mexican Cinnamon, Dutch Cinnamon and Sweet Cinnamon.

Cinnamon-y Health

Here are some health benefits of true cinnamon – Cinnamomum verum (or the old botanical name Cinnammomum zeylanicum)aka Ceylon cinnamon.

  • It aids in the digestive process, improving appetite. Cinnamon also relieves flatulent colic, nausea, and dyspepsia.
  • Provides relief from congestion due to common colds.
  • Contains anti-inflammatory compounds that relieve muscle and joint pains, and arthritis.
  • Cinnamon also has antimicrobial properties that enable it to prevent urinary tract infections, tooth decay, and gum disease.
  • It is a powerful antioxidant. An antioxidant is a molecule that prevents the oxidation of other molecules. If those terms remind you of a horrible time in biology class, suffice to say that antioxidants are good for the body as they maintain health and prevent diseases. And cinnamon has a lot of antioxidants. 267,536 ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) values per 100g. to be exact. A quick backgrounder: ORAC is a way of measuring the antioxidant capabilities of substances. In theory, the higher the ORAC value is, the better.
  • May reduce cholesterol.  In some controlled scientific tests, LDL levels were significantly reduced, HDL was unchanged and triglycerides were reduced 25 to 30% (doses ranged from 1g to 6 g daily with rather equal results…showing that more is not necessarily better. Other studies were inconclusive.  All studies I have found were involving Type 2 diabetics.  Results of those studies cannot be applied to non-diabetics, in which case it ‘may’ reduce cholesterol (in non-diabetics).
  • Cinnamon effectively reduces blood sugar, thus aiding in managing type-2 diabetes in conjunction with medications (and in some cases along with other natural methods can replace pharma medicines). Because it mimics insulin’s function, it lowers blood sugar levels.  Laboratory tests on 49 medicinal plants showed that Cinammomun zeylanicum was far more effective in fulfilling insulin’s role.  Some type-2 diabetics and ‘pre-diabetics’ can be helped without pharma drugs.

Here’s what some researchers say:

The beneficial effects of CZ (Cinnammomum zeylanicum) In-vivo includes; a) attenuation of weight loss associated with diabetes, b) reduction of Fasting Blood Glucose, c) reducing LDL and increasing HDL cholesterol, d) reducing HbA1c and e) increasing circulating insulin levels [51]. In addition CZ also showed beneficial effects against diabetic neuropathy and nephropathy [51]

The Odd Cousin

Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia, aka Chinese cinnamon)  ) a close relative of Cinnammomum zeylanicum, is sometimes interchanged with and sold as the “true cinnamon”, but this is deceptive.  Cassia also comes from different but related plants such as Cinnamomum aromaticum, Cinnamomum loureiroi and Cinnamomum burmannii.

It is important to know that they are different plants with different properties because cassia contains coumarin which has some pretty nasty side-effects when taken in large amounts.  Among them are allergic reactions, liver and kidney damage.  Coumarin is a strong anti-coagulant (blood thinner).

cinnamon and cassia sticks

cinnamon (left) and cassia (right) sticks

Over-consumption of cassia is especially hazardous to children, due to their smaller anatomy; an acceptable amount for an adult will not be for a child or small adult. European authorities have warned against it. In Germany, for example, parents are warned not to allow their children to eat too much of a Christmas treat called “Zimtsterne” or cinnamon stars because of the fear that they might have been made with cassia and not cinnamon.

Because coumarin is oil soluble, it becomes bioavailable because of the butter or oil content necessary in baking.  Using cassia sticks in your tea, for example is not a problem as the troublesome constituent, coumarin is insoluble in water.

Though coumarin has its place in herbal medicine (ie. treating lymphedema), it is moderately toxic, has significant blood thinning phytochemicals and is best left up to your natural health practioner.

The recommended maximum amount of cassia per day for an adult is less than 1 tsp.  One full teaspoon is above the tolerable levels as set by the EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) .

To quote from Wikipedia:

The name cinnamon is correctly used to refer to Ceylon cinnamon, also known as “true cinnamon” (from the botanical name C. zeylanicum). However, the related species, cassia (Cinnamomum aromaticum), Saigon Cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi), and Cinnamomum burmannii are sometimes sold labeled as cinnamon, sometimes distinguished from true cinnamon as “Chinese cinnamon”, “Vietnamese cinnamon”, or “Indonesian cinnamon”; many websites, for example, describe their “cinnamon” as being cassia.[19] Ceylon cinnamon, using only the thin inner bark, has a finer, less dense, and more crumbly texture, and is considered to be less strong than cassia. Cassia has a much stronger (somewhat harsher) flavour than cinnamon, is generally a medium to light reddish brown, hard and woody in texture, and thicker (2–3 mm thick), as all of the layers of bark are used.

As you can see above, they all start with Cinnamomum, and are the minor cins as I jokingly refer to.

To quickly identify what you’re buying, here are some of cassia’s distinguishing features:

  • It has a harsh, stronger (though not better) flavor.
  • Rolls appear woody in texture. The edges of the roll turn inward to each other.
  • It is harder and thicker than Cinnamon. No layers of bark.
  • Unlike cinnamon, which is light or golden brown, cassia is a darker, medium reddish-brown.

However, if you’re getting your cinnamon in powdered form, read the labels and don’t trust the generic, supermarket brand names because they very likely are mixing cassia with the cinnamon or it IS cassia.  In fact, in the US, true cinnamon is very difficult to locate except in health food or gourmet shops and must be labeled with the botanical name.

This may not be much of a problem for culinary purposes, but for ingestion in higher doses for health purposes – then yes.  You must be careful that it is indeed true cinnamon you are using.  Cassia contains .5% of coumarin.  True Ceylon cinnamon contains only .0004%.

Consumers who think they are purchasing cinnamon from supermarkets are most likely buying cassia because manufacturers do not have to identify it on the labels. Purchase from your health foods store or online from a reliable source and be sure it is labeled by its botanical name Cinnamomum zeylanicum (the Major Cin ;>) . 

Only then can you be sure you are getting the real deal – sweet, not harsh, healthy, heavenly, true organic Ceylon or Sri Lanka  cinnamon.

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Here is a great link showing the difference between cassia and cinnamon (not affiliated):

Ceylon-Cinnamon-Online

Related article:  Dosage and Method:  Cinnamon     Don’t Make your Own Cinnamon Oil – until you read this

13 comments… add one
  • Sam 10/09/2016, 11:03

    Here’s something else to keep in mind: Just because you order “true cinnamon” online, that doesn’t mean you’re getting the real deal.

    I’ve been ordering true cinnamon from Mountain Rose Herbs for years. But then my sister ordered some last month, in powdered form. She showed it to me. I opened the bag and sniffed it and knew right away that it was Cassia, even though the label says Cinnamonium verum. They sell Cassia for 1/3 the cost. She called them up and told them about it, and they’re trying to give her the runaround. Right now, they’ve referred this matter to their so-called quality-control lab. I’m pretty sure they’re going to tell her that there’s no mistake whatsoever and that it’s fine. I think they’re being purposely deceptive and know exactly what they’re doing.

    So, you can’t trust labels, even from “reputable” dealers. Let your eyes, nose, and taste buds be your guide. 🙂

    Reply
    • admin 14/09/2016, 12:03

      Good points. However, it would be interesting what the lab results are. Mistakes can happen and if this is the case, MR should contact their latest customers of that batch of Ceylon cinnamon and either refund them or send them the real stuff they thought they were ordering.

      Reply
  • lionary 17/08/2016, 07:33

    After doing extensive research on the net, including reviewing summaries by the usual suspects (i.e., well-known medical websites such as Mayo Clinic), it seems that the cholesterol lowering benefits of cinnamon are questionable, as the favorable results of the initial 2003 Khan/Anderson Pakistani study you cite (and a subsequent, much smaller, Pakistani study– http://www.scialert.net/abstract/?doi=pjn.2010.430.433) have for the most part not been replicated (at least not at doses ranging from .5g/d to 3g/d). More specifically, see, e.g., the following studies:

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16549460 (“We conclude that cinnamon supplementation (1.5 g/d) does not . . . modulate blood lipid profile in postmenopausal patients with type 2 diabetes.”)

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16634838 (3g/d)(“No significant intragroup or intergroup differences were observed regarding . . . lipid profiles or differences between the pre- and postintervention levels of these variables.”)

    care.diabetesjournals.org/content/30/9/2236 (“This the first U.S. study to evaluate the effects of cinnamon on blood glucose and lipid levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes. We found that cinnamon taken at a dose of 1 g daily for 3 months produced no significant change in . . . lipid . . . levels.”)

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20854384 (2g/d) (“There were no significant differences in serum lipid profiles of total cholesterol, triglycerides, HDL and LDL cholesterols neither between nor within the groups.”)

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22749176 (about .5g/d and 1.5g/d) (“The blood triglyceride levels were also significantly reduced in the low-dose group. The blood levels of total cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and liver transaminase remained unchanged in the 3 groups.”)

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22973482 (3g/d) (“In the treatment group, the levels of . . . triglyceride . . . decreased significantly compared to baseline, but not in placebo group. No significant differences were observed in . . . lipid profile . . . between the groups at the end of intervention.”)

    Reply
    • admin 17/08/2016, 18:58

      Hello,
      I appreciate the time you spent to share what your online researching has shown up. However, when reading these medical abstracts and studies, it is best to look at them within the context and not just pay attention to the ‘conclusions’ part. My own medical background helps me to understand and assimilate what I read perhaps differently than a ‘lay person’.

      NCBI/PUBMED is a great resource and one I often refer to as well as other sites I pay to access…mainly used by the medical profession. And then there is Phytomedicine Journal.

      Agreed that there are not enough quality double blind human studies on neither diabetic patients nor ‘normal’ non-diabetics as separate classes. And this is something to pay attention to.

      What I would like to point out in the links you provided is that all were studies done on Type 2 diabetics. Diabetes is a class of metabolic disorder…and not ‘just’ an insulin disorder. It affects all systems of the body, hence studies with cinnamon that fail to show, say total cholesterol reduction are not surprising. Studies on diabetics can only show what is good or not for diabetics and those results cannot be transferred over to a ‘non-diabetic’ so neatly.

      An annoying flaw I sometimes come across in my own searches in medical databases is important bits of info being left out. Such as in regards to the aqueous extracts used in some studies. Was it Cinnamomum verum or Cinnamomun cassia? Huge difference in the chemical makeup between the two.

      You may find this from 2013 interesting. It is quite long: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3854496/

      Cinnamon’s most beneficial use is obviously for diabetics as demonstrated by the plethora of studies over the years. I personally suspect that Cinnamomum vera in combination with turmeric will show potent synergistic benefits also in total cholesterol in both diabetics and non.

      The very abstracts you point out are some of the ones I have read as well. Unfortunately, when I wrote this article several years ago, I wasn’t at the time saving my resources. This is something I am doing more of regards other articles here, specifically on turmeric.

      Reply
      • lionary 18/08/2016, 00:16

        Thank you for your detailed response. I agree with everything you say actually, and the article is excellent overall. I had just wanted to point out that the cholesterol lowering benefits may be overstated, based on the state of subsequent/current research.

        I added turmeric (with black pepper) to my daily diet a while back already, and more recently have added cinnamon, ginger and coriander. I had added cinnamon primarily for the claimed cholesterol benefits based on the same 2003 Khan study you cited to in your article above, but subsequently/recently realized that they are apparently not clear (e.g., http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseasesconditions/highlooblood-cholesterol/expert-answers/cinnamon-lower-cholesterol/faq-20057912 (“little evidence”); http://www.webmd.com/diet/supplement-guide-cinnamon (“inconclusive”), which is what led me to try to look at the individual studies. (Note: I did not include one comprehensive review in my list above, because it seemed to me (though I have no science background), after reviewing each individual study listed, that the overall conclusion is skewed, in large part due to the 2 Pakistani studies, but here it is in any event: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3767714/.)

        Unfortunately, the studies overall seem inconclusive (regarding cholesterol), in large part because, as you pointed out, they are either not done on humans or on non-diabetic humans.

        So in sum I don’t know that adding cinnamon to one’s diet solely or mostly because of the claimed or possible cholesterol benefits is warranted. But I will likely keep adding ground Ceylon cinnamon to my daily diet, due to the other possible benefits mentioned in that article you linked to about the varied possible benefits of Ceylon cinnamon (which I had previously encountered/read actually). Still trying to figure out appropriate dosage though.

        Reply
        • admin 19/08/2016, 08:21

          I’m not so concerned about cinnamon and the cholesterol claims as there are so many other options available. Perhaps a good read through my various articles on cholesterol will be interesting too. Have a look under Whatever Else.

          I use cinnamon daily in some way…either at breakfast or in my favourite quick dessert, greek yogurt with a serious amount of carob powder, honey to taste and of course a serious amount of cinnamon and a dose of turmeric. Don’t worry so much about dosage, unless you are targeting a diabetic problem. Use use it liberally. No sissy decorative sprinklings on the latte! 😉

          This has been an interesting conversation and I thank you. I have edited this article to reflect the most recent updates re cinnamon/cholesterol and hope readers have a look at our conversation too.

          Your daily spice combination sounds very similar to mine, except the coriander. I sometimes use cardamon oil as needed too. Besides, it is heavenly tea or turmeric milk. I also use various herbal tinctures as need for one thing or another.

          Reply
  • Jeff 10/05/2016, 17:55

    I let my cinammon sticks soak in water for a couple of days, i add a little whole clove as well,
    and then drink about 16oz of this water daily…since you say that the coumarin is not soluble
    in water then this should be ok?

    thanks

    Reply
    • admin 12/05/2016, 00:32

      The coumarin is a problem with cassia cinnamon, so yes making a water solution of it is a good idea. But why not simmer it instead of soaking it? You would get the maximum flavour and benefits out of the sticks…and don’t have to wait!

      Reply
  • George 20/06/2012, 14:32

    Ceylon Cinnamon when taken with honey assists with weight loss. Ceylon Cinnamon is considered safe as it contains 1250 times less coumarin than Cassia.

    Reply
    • admin 08/08/2012, 18:41

      Good tip, George. Quite true about Ceylon Cinnamon.

      Reply
    • Rena 03/01/2015, 18:56

      What a pluasere to meet someone who thinks so clearly

      Reply
  • Anon 15/06/2010, 23:58

    This common, tasty spice has potent antimicrobial action and can settle an upset stomach. Diabetes Aids Wholesale

    Reply
    • admin 17/06/2010, 15:22

      …….and a long list of other good uses too!

      Reply

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