Health benefits of cinnamon: What’s the difference between Ceylon and cassia cinnamon?
Cinnamon is used as an ingredient for many kinds of products, from lattes to pastries like cinnamon rolls. But did you know that not all types of cinnamon offer the same health benefits? Several studies have looked into the potential benefits of two kinds of cinnamon: Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon.
Ceylon cinnamon is sold in gourmet stores and is a milder form of the spice. It’s also said that this type of cinnamon offers more benefits compared to cassia cinnamon, or “supermarket” cinnamon.
Cassia cinnamon is more common and can be easily found in grocery stores and supermarkets. It has also been more widely studied compared to Ceylon cinnamon. However, experts advise that Ceylon cinnamon is safer in very high doses compared to the cassia variety.
Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon
Cinnamon comes from the bark of evergreen trees. The ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum) is a small tree native to Sri Lanka.
Ceylon cinnamon is lighter in color compared to cassia cinnamon and the former is more commonly used in Europe and Mexico. Ceylon cinnamon has a sweet, floral aroma.
Ceylon cinnamon sticks are made by rolling several layers of delicate bark from the interior of a cinnamon tree, which is responsible for the light-brown color of the final product. Ceylon cinnamon has “lighter, brighter citrus tones.”
Meanwhile, cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) often comes from Indonesia, China and other countries. Ana Sortun, the executive chef of Oleana restaurant in Cambridge, Mass., explains that cassia cinnamon tastes “stronger and hotter.”
A closer look at the potential health benefits of cinnamon
Studies suggest that cinnamon can help lower blood sugar in patients with diabetes, relieve arthritis and also improve cholesterol.
Data from a recent meta-analysis in the journal Annals of Family Medicine has revealed that cinnamon can help reduce blood sugar and cholesterol in humans. However, data on cinnamon and its potential use in relieving arthritis are currently limited to animal data.
For the analysis, researchers reviewed 10 studies and a total of 543 patients. Doses of cinnamon used in the studies ranged from 120 milligrams a day to six grams.
According to Angela Ginn, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, research has shown that consuming a sprinkle of cassia cinnamon per day offers blood-sugar benefits. Most studies reviewed in the meta-analysis used cassia cinnamon and researchers have yet to determine if Ceylon cinnamon is also linked to the same benefits.
Data from the meta-analysis revealed that cinnamon helped reduce blood glucose levels in participants with diabetes. The spice was also linked to reduced cholesterol levels. (Related: Can cinnamon extracts help with diabetes and obesity?)
Cinnamon and coumarin
In a separate study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, scientists tested cinnamon commercially available in the U.S. The alarming results showed that “substantial amounts” of coumarin, a naturally occurring organic compound, were found in many samples of cassia cinnamon. Coumarin can cause liver damage if consumed in excess.
The researchers also discovered that there were only trace amounts of coumarin in Ceylon cinnamon.
Ikhlas A. Khan, study author and assistant director for the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi’s School of Pharmacy, advised that Ceylon cinnamon is better from a safety point of view. He added that not everyone is “biologically susceptible” to liver damage from cinnamon consumption and that consuming the spice “in moderation” is considered safe.
Incorporating cinnamon into your regular diet
According to Germany’s Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, anyone who regularly consumes a lot of cassia cinnamon – more than two grams (0.07 ounces) a day for a 132-pound adult – may experience some side effects.
Both cassia and Ceylon cinnamon are on the Food and Drug Administration’s list of spices considered safe for human consumption, but the list doesn’t specify the “safe” quantities of cinnamon.
Ginn added that anyone who wants to incorporate cinnamon into their diet should consider using Ceylon cinnamon since it can help lower your risk of liver damage.
If you’re not sure whether you need cinnamon sticks or ground cinnamon, use cracked full cinnamon sticks when infusing the spice into liquids. Doing this helps impart cinnamon’s subtle flavor without overpowering the mixture.
You’ll need ground cinnamon if your recipe needs a strong cinnamon kick, such as spiced desserts or Indian stews. To save space in your pantry, purchase Ceylon cinnamon sticks and grind them with a spice grinder if your recipe calls for cinnamon powder.