When it comes to spices, one of my favorite is “cinnamon”. Cinnamon deserves to be put in the spot light because it is one of the healthiest spices in the world. Before I get into spices, let me differentiate between spices and herbs.
The difference between spices and herbs depends on which part of the plant that it comes from. Herbs are the leaves of the plant, while spices, come from the roots, stalk, bark, dry fruit, and seeds. Simply put, any part of the plant that is not a leaf and can be used for seasoning, would fall into the spice category. Some plants are used for both herbs and spices: like cilantro (the leaves) and coriander (the seeds) of the cilantro plant.
Now, that we know the difference between herbs and spices, let’s explore cinnamon. Cinnamon’s history dates back to ancient Egypt. The ancient Egyptians used it as a medicine, a spice, and as an embalming agent. Because of its scarcity and its multiple use cinnamon was so valued that it was considered more precious than gold at the time.
There are hundreds of types of cinnamon, but only 4 varieties are used for commercial purposes. These include Ceylon, Cassia, Saigon, and Korintje cinnamon. Cassia, Saigon, and Korintje cinnamon are scientifically classified as Cassia cinnamon, due to similarities in color, shape, and coumarin content. Thus, in reality there are just two types of cinnamon we are concerned about, Cassia, and Ceylon.
Before I get into the difference between the two Cassia and Ceylon, I need to discuss the benefits of using cinnamon in the first place. There are three elements in the essential oils of cinnamon, which make it a powerful spice. The three elements are: cinnamyl alcohol, cinnamaldehyde, and cinnamyl acetate. Cinnamyl alcohol is typically used in fragrances and cosmetic products, cinnamyl acetate is used in products like hair conditioners and shampoos. All three of these elements are anti-fungal, and anti-bacterial agents, and combine to make cinnamon a very potent antioxidant filled spice.
Cinnamon comes from a tree and the cinnamon we use is actually the bark. Cinnamon is sold as a ground power. There are two different kinds, Cassia and Ceylon cinnamon. The Cassia variety is referred to as fake cinnamon and Ceylon as true cinnamon. The cinnamon commonly found in most supermarkets is likely the Cassia variety. Why is it so common? Well, unfortunately, Cassia is considered lower quality and happens to be cheap, making it the best choice for large chain stores that sometimes sacrifice quality for price.
Cassia cinnamon contains a very high amount of coumarin. Coumarin is a flavoring substance and it can be toxic. Cassia cinnamon typically contains over 1,000 times more coumarin compared with the true cinnamon,”Ceylon”. Large amounts of coumarin, especially prolonged daily use, could potentially cause health problems.
Coumarin, is present in much higher concentrations in Cassia than in Ceylon cinnamon, which may be very important if you are taking certain hepatotoxic medications, preparing to undergo a surgical or dental procedure, if you’re considered to be at a high risk of bleeding. Because, coumarin is a natural blood thinner. Though coumarin is a natural ingredient, it carries a risk for causing liver damage or failure in sensitive individuals and among those who consume the Cassia cinnamon daily, or in large amounts. Cassia cinnamon has high levels of coumarin, which is why some European countries have banned the Cassia variety. While abstaining from Cassia cinnamon is warranted for some individuals, the average person does not need to worry about coumarin overdose. People that regularly consume more than a teaspoon a day, a diet that is rich in vitamin K may help, as will switching to Ceylon cinnamon to avoid potential risk to the liver.
Ceylon cinnamon has 1,000 times less coumarin than Cassia. It is softer and lighter brown in color compared to Cassia. It’s sweeter tasting, and the big difference is it’s more expensive and harder too fine. Also due to the better quality, Ceylon has far less potential to cause harm when consumed regularly.
Scientific studies confirm that the benefits of cinnamon are numerous. This includes, but is not limited to antimicrobial and anti-parasitic activity, along with the lowering of blood glucose, antioxidant and free-radical scavenging properties, anti-inflammatory activity, anti-clotting and wound healing properties. Cinnamon also helps stop the growth of bacteria, as well as fungus. Cinnamon may help enhance cognitive function and memory. When studying for a test or brushing up on vocabulary in a new language, waft cinnamon essential oil under your nose or sip cinnamon tea for a brain boost. Cinnamon contains a nice amounts of manganese, calcium, fiber, and iron. Whats more the cinnamyl acetate, cinnamyl alcohol, and cinnamaldehde found in cinnamon oil may have antiviral, antibacterial and anti-fungal properties.
What are the most common uses for cinnamon? Possibly the most common cinnamon is a baking spice, cinnamon is used in cakes, cookies, and desserts throughout the world. Cinnamon is also used in savory chicken and lamb dishes from the Middle East. In American cooking, cinnamon is often paired with apples and used in other fruit and cereal dishes. If you decide to use cinnamon, use organic “Ceylon” it’s better for your health.
When it comes to incorporating cinnamon into my recipes I like to experiment. I’ve tried cinnamon in many different combinations. Some turned out really good others not so good. The point I am trying to make is, be daring, even if it turns out, not so good you’ll still be consuming one of the healthiest spices in the world. You have everything to gain (your health) and nothing to loose, go for it! I will be researching more of my favorite spices in the future so stay tuned in.