Cinnamon can actually be beneficial to your health. Or it can be harmful. It all depends on which type is in your spice jar.
By Toby Lebovits
Surely you’ve heard that cinnamon is good for you. In addition to being rich in antioxidants, cinnamon has been touted for its healthful benefits, specifically in its ability to lower blood sugar.
So should you simply sprinkle cinnamon on everything? Not so fast.
There’s actually more than one type of cinnamon, and they are NOT created equal. Think of apples, for example, some are red and sweet, with yellow flesh, others green, tart, and those have a whiter flesh. Similarly, there are several species of cinnamon, and their mix of healing to damaging components vary.
As far as flavor, unless you are an advanced food snob, and pay careful attention, they all taste and smell like, well, cinnamon. There’s more than one way that cinnamon can benefit your health. Every part of the cinnamon tree has pharmacological properties. The medicinal value varies between the bark, leaf, root, and flower. For the purposes of this article we will discuss cinnamon bark. We see it most often as powder and also rolled into little sticks. Aside from its delightful aroma, cinnamon is actually linked to healing many common ailments like respiratory issues, digestive upset, arthritis, and more.
The key is in owning and using the RIGHT or good cinnamon.
Different varieties of cinnamon grow throughout China, India, Vietnam, and most of southeast Asia and Malaysia. Scientifically their names sound like Cinnamomum zeylanicum (CZ) or Cinnamomum aromaticum/Chinese cinnamon also known as Cinnamomum Cassia (CC) without further discourse into binomial nomenclature, we shall quickly classify the different varieties into two easy categories: good and bad. Two simple ways for you to determine which cinnamon you have is either country of origin, or appearance, if you have cinnamon sticks.
You see, the good cinnamon is the cinnamon from India. Ceylon is a city in India and we are looking for Ceylon Cinnamon (the CZ mentioned above). This is the one scientists call “true” cinnamon. All the other cinnamons come from Vietnam and China and are naturally high in a compound called coumarin. And the problem is that too much coumarin can damage the kidneys. How much is too much? German studies indicated that a half to one teaspoon of the bad cinnamon (CC) already contains more than the daily maximum for an adult. In fact, American holiday cookies made with cassia cinnamon have repeatedly been banned in Germany. (Ceylon Cinnamon contains almost no coumarin, definitely not in any amount that one need be concerned.)
The second method of recognizing the real from the evil, is readily visible if you have cinnamon sticks. Take a look at your cinnamon stick.
Is it one thick smooth piece of bark, rolled somewhat, or does it have many flaky, paper thin layers of bark? The one that’s more common in the U.S. is the thicker one as seen on the left. That’s Cassia Cinnamon. If your cinnamon looks like the lighter colored one, and is thin flakier rolls of bark, then congratulations, you already own the good one!
Which one is in your spice rack?
That depends on where you live. If you live in the U.S., you most likely have cassia cinnamon (the bad one, CC, sorry). You can most likely blame geographics as it is apparently easier to import from Vietnam than India, as it comes directly across the Pacific Ocean. Another name for Vietnamese cinnamon is Saigon Cinnamon, named for the Vietnamese city (this is the one Costco sells).
So what can you do?
- Become a spice snob and ask for Ceylon Cinnamon.
- Buy organic cinnamon. I’ve only found Ceylon cinnamon (the “good” cinnamon) in health food stores.
- Ask a relative in Israel to buy the cinnamon for you. Because India is closer to Israel, the type of cinnamon commonly sold there is the Ceylan variety.
Toby Lebovits is an earth living, baby wearing, holistic mama. When she’s not toting her tots or feeding her babes, she can be seen hiking the hills of the Hudson Valley or tending her organic medicine garden. Follow her on instagram @toby.totally.