Among the types of food we consume is a category called spices. Among spices probably the more well known in North America is cinnamon. It originates from the dried inner bark of a tropical tree and has the family name Lauraceae. There are two main commercial varieties of this spice, namely Cassia Cinnamon and Ceylon Cinnamon. Interestingly, both belong not only to the same family of plants but the same genus as well, which is Cinnamomum. Hence it is important to differentiate between the two and know what they have to offer for our culinary delights as well as health and well-being.
Forms and Types of Cinnamon
It pays to notice cinnamon comes to our table in a number of forms. These can be in the form sticks(rolled cylindrical bark), wood-like chips or powder which is obviously the ground version. Cinnamon oil is also produced from the bark or leaves of the tree. Cassia Cinnamon of a few types(Padang Cassia, Saigon and Chinese) is grown in Indonesia, Vietnam and China respectively whilst Ceylon Cinnamon is primarily from Ceylon with a minute percentage, less than ten, from India, Brazil and the Caribbean.
Ceylon Cinnamon vs. Cassia
The colour of Cassia Cinnamon is a darker brown while Ceylonese Cinnamon has a light hue to it. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to tell one from the other when purchased in powder form so one has to be diligent in getting a powder cinnamon product that identifies its source or just call the manufacturer to obtain this information. The former is also thick and hard while the latter is thin and soft. If the sticks are viewed from their ends, Cassia Cinnamon has a rather hollow tube while the Ceylonese one, due to its thin bark, wraps around in multiple layers quite densely like a cigar and does not let light through. Some of the main reasons we use this particular spice which are the aroma and taste, require further mention. The Ceylon variant has a delicate, fragrant aroma while being softer and subtle in taste. Cassia is less aromatic but has an overtly spicy cinnamon taste unlike the mild sweetness of its Ceylonese counterpart. The strong taste of Cassia is sometimes taken advantage of for recipes with a specific cinnamon taste. This is often the case with pastries. Ceylonese Cinnamon however can embellish dishes with a sophisticated flavour and aroma because of its mild yet fragrant nature. Rich and flavourful Asian curries and many Western culinary delights exemplify this.
Health Benefits and Coumarin Content
Ceylon Cinnamon has often been considered as the real cinnamon. Both varieties have positive health effects mainly due to high levels of naturally occurring Manganese(about 70% DV) which assists in metabolic efficiency and sugar control. Nevertheless, the content of coumarin, a naturally occurring plant substance that has strong anticoagulant properties is often the cause of concern in Cassia. It has high levels of Coumarin(5%) compared to the Ceylonese variant(0.04%). This means it can cause liver damage with significant doses taken regularly. There are recommendations by the European Union on how much Cassia powder can be used in pastries which differs between regular and seasonal consumption. This variation is anywhere between 10mg to 60mg per kilogram of dough. The Tolerable Daily Intake(TDI) from the European Food Safety Authority(EFSA) is similarly 0.1mg/kg body weight. The Coumarin content is the most pertinent difference between the two varieties of cinnamon.
Traditionally, the import of Cassia in the United States has always exceeded Ceylon Cinnamon and this ties in partly with the latter being very expensive for all the reasons above besides the lesser fact, maybe that it does not lend easily to Christmas decorations, being rather fragile. This fact is slowly changing due to the manifest health benefits of real cinnamon. Maybe it’s best to take a good look at both options at the time of purchase and make the right decisions as necessary.