We’ve all known cinnamon since our childhood as a flavoring agent. Be it pies, tea, latte or toast, cinnamon has been playing an important role in the kitchen. We shall try to explore the benefits of cinnamon for our health and also understand its negative aspects.
Types of cinnamon
Cinnamon is nothing but the bark of a certain plant (Cinnamomum Zeylanicum) which is sold in the form of edible sticks and its powder.
I am not sure about you, but at least I was completely unaware of the types of cinnamon. When I read a few years back that cinnamon was good for health I started using it even more than usual in my cooking. Only later did I come to know about its types and that I was actually using the ‘wrong’ type of cinnamon and it did not make me feel good. So here I am, trying to explain the differences and what you should buy.
The two primary types of cinnamon and Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon. While I’ve read in a few journals and websites about two other types of cinnamon – Indonesian cinnamon and Saigon cinnamon. But the commonly available ones are Ceylon and Cassia varieties. So we shall see about those.
Before going into the differences, we may have to understand what Coumarin is. Coumarin is basically a colourless compound which has a mild flavour and is hence used as a flavouring agent. Coumarin is found in many plant substances including cinnamon. However, this compound is toxic to an extent and affects the kidney and liver in humans.
This is referred to as ‘true’ cinnamon and is a bit expensive. This cinnamon has very little coumarin in it. This cinnamon is primarily cultivated in Sri Lanka, Seychelles and Madagascar.
Cassia cinnamon (Also known as Chinese cinnamon)
This cinnamon powder has more than about 60 times the coumarin in ceylon cinnamon powder! That is the extent of toxicity of cassia cinnamon. This cinnamon is cultivated in China and Indonesia.
According to the BfR Institute of Germany, experiments in animals had even seen coumarin to cause cancer in mice.
So how do we differentiate between the two? We can ask the shop keeper, but then how do we check for ourselves?
True cinnamon (Ceylon type) is soft and thin – It is light brown in colour and is very fragile (can be broken easily). It has multiple layers or folds. The cassia variety however is dark brown in colour and is pretty hard. It is not that fragile or soft.
But then, if you’re buying in the powdered form, it is hard to tell the difference. You would not be able to tell by the aroma since the powders typically come in packed boxes. So, you could probably buy the cinnamon sticks and powder it yourself to be safe.
All the below facts including nutrition information pertain to the real Ceylon cinnamon only.
Cinnamon is rich in Manganese, Iron, Calcium and dietary fiber. It also has substantial quantities of Copper and Zinc.
Cinnamon for bone health
Cinnamon has been known to delay or even prevent the breakdown of bones and can be very beneficial in prevent osteoporosis in women.
To improve blood circulation
Cinnamon has a blood thinning compound present in it. As a result, it prevents unwanted clotthing and also improves circulation of blood in the body. Due to this reason, cinnamon can be a useful spice for people with certain heart diseases.
To treat sore throat
Cinnamon and honey can be a miracle cure for sore throat.
Make a drink following the below steps:
- Heat 150 – 200 ml milk in a vessel.
- Once the milk is hot, switch off the stove.
- Add half a teaspoon turmeric, half teaspoon cinnamon and one teaspoon honey to the hot milk and stir well.
- Drink this milk before bed for good relief from sore throat.
Anti-inflammatory effects of cinnamon
Cinnamon has excellent anti-inflammatory properties. You could make cinnamon tea and drink thrice a day for relief from arthritis and joint pain.
- In a vessel, boil water.
- Add a teaspoon of cinnamon powder (or a two – three inch cinnamon stick) to it.
- Allow the water to boil for at least 10 minutes if you’ve used powder and at least 20 minutes if you’ve used the sticks.
- Switch off and allow it to come to warm temperature.
- Strain the tea well.
- Add a teaspoon of honey and stir well.
Anti-fungal properties of cinnamon
Cinnamon has anti-fungal, anti-microbial anti-parasitic properties. It can hence be used to treat various fungal infections.
For skin health
The above cinnamon tea can also benefit those who suffer from skin problems. Cinnamon and honey soaps are available in the market. They can also be made into face packs. Cinnamon can clear out pimples and acne and can make your skin much more clearer.
Cinnamon to control diabetes?
There are claims that cinnamon can help to reduce blood sugar levels. While one study suggested that cinnamon improved glucose levels in people with type 2 diabetes (Alam Khan, 2003), there were subsequent studies made in the similar area and this study showed that cinnamon had no significant effect on the A1C, FBG or lipid parameters. (William L. Baker, 2008)
How much cinnamon can you include in your diet?
The below statement from the BfR (Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung) Institute of Germany’s website, answers this question clearly.
“For small children with a body weight of 15 kg, the TDI* would be reached if they ate 30 g of cinnamon stars (about 6 small cinnamon stars) or 100 g of ginger bread cake every day, provided that no other coumarin exposure from other sources occurs. For adults (with a body weight of 60 kg) this equals more than 120 g of cinnamon stars (about 24 small cinnamon stars) per day. As with other foods, the BfR recommends consumption in moderation.”
*TDI here referers to Total Daily Intake.
The BfR is The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment in Germany – they report to the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture and work for consumer health protection.
I’ve tried to gather authentic information as much as possible. If you’ve any other harmful effect of cassia cinnamon, do drop in an email along with evidence and we would like to include it to the article in order to bring in more awareness.
Alam Khan, M. S. M. M. A. K. K. N. K. R. A. A., 2003. Cinnamon Improves Glucose and Lipids of People With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care.
William L. Baker, P. B. G. G.-W. P. C. M. W. P. F. F. J. K. M. a. C. I. C. P., 2008. Effect of Cinnamon on Glucose Control and Lipid Parameters. Diabtes Care.