Stack of cinnamon stick with a wooden scoop full of ground cinnamon

I used to think that cinnamon was like sugar and should be avoided or limited in the diet like sugar. I guess that was a mistaken assumption due to the company it was keeping. Ha Ha. I mean just look at those gooey cinnamon buns! Turns out that cinnamon is the saving grace of sugary desserts. It actually helps the body in metabolizing sugar as well as other things I will get into.

What is True Cinnamon?

It also turns out that there are quite a few different cinnamons. These are grouped into 5 groups:

Cinnamomum zeylanicum which is called True Cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon or Mexican Cinnamon. In Mexico it is called Canela. That is a throwback to when the cinnamon monopoly was controlled by Venice Italy and they called the dried bark Canela which is the Italian word for "little cannons". 

It is also referred to as Cinnamomum verum which is the botanical name meaning true cinnamon. Botanical names are sometimes different than the taxonomic name. Botanical names are scientific, but are based on an agreement with the International Code of Nomenclature as opposed to the binomial nomenclature of biological classification called taxonomy. I know that's confusing but that's why I am explaining it.

 Zeylanicum is derived from the word meaning Ceylon where this cinnamon is native.

Ceylon was the former name of Sri Lanka before 1972. Sri Lanka is the source of the world's true cinnamon. Its turbulent history of takeovers over the centuries reflects this.  More recently however, this cinnamon has gotten out of its safely guarded situation and is cultivated in other places. Mexico being one of the major places.

Veracruz being right on the gulf coast of Mexico has a similar climate to Sri Lanka so it is grown enthusiastically there. But since all of Mexico has had a love affair with Ceylon cinnamon ever since the San Pablo, a Spanish galleon arrived in Acapulco in 1565 with 50,000 pounds of it, Mexico is still the #1 importer of Ceylon cinnamon in the world.

This cinnamon is lighter in color and much softer than other varieties and is sweeter and lighter in flavor. It has a more complex flavor rather than the pungent flavor of other cinnamons. Countries like India use the Ceylon for desserts and the Cassia for curries and meat dishes.

Egypt, where it was used for embalming and in perfumes, got Cassia from China and Ceylon from French traders who of course got it from the Portuguese traders, who early on monopolized it in Ceylon.

Other Common Varieties

  • Cinnamomum burmannii or Indonesian Cinnamon also called Korintje cinnamon.
  • Cinnamomum loureiroi Vietnamese Cinnamon, also known as Saigon Cinnamon
  • Cinnamomum aromaticum known as Cassia Cinnamon or Chinese Cinnamon. It is very hard and much darker than Ceylon cinnamon.
  • Cinnamomum citriodorum also known as Camphora citriodorum and Malabar Cinnamon.This one is very rare and is also found in Sri Lanka, but in the central and lowland rainforests. It is an endangered species. This cinnamon contains much less of the major active, flavor giving, ingredient cinnamaldehyde than the Ceylon, but also contains Camphor.

In addition to the mentioned cinnamon there are about 245 more species in the cinnamon genus that are also very volatile and cinnamon-like but have not been made very commercially important as cinnamon.

Cassia vs Ceylon

The cinnamon most Americans have in their shakers is Cassia cinnamon grown in China because it is the most inexpensive. Before that Saigon cinnamon was popular, but certain embargos ended that situation. Sometimes however, even cheaper fillers like ground Beech Nut Hulls or other nuts are flavored with cinnamaldehyde and mixed in and it is still marketed as cinnamon.

A lot of articles will tell you there are only 2 types of cinnamon, Cassia and Ceylon. That is because colloquially all non Ceylon cinnamon is referred to collectively as Cassia for ease of comparison with the true cinnamon. Or like with palm trees there is confusion on what is what and things get erroneously included under the wrong name. Also the word Cassia derives from kasia a Greek word which came from Hebrew gatsa that means to cut off or strip off bark. All of the cinnamons are harvested this way. Cinnamon is the inner bark of the tree and sometimes the root when it is large enough.

Currently the most important difference between Ceylon cinnamon and the rest is that Ceylon is the only cinnamon that has almost no coumarin in it (more on that later) and it is considered purer than the rest and it is the most expensive.

In the past it was about the taste and softness. Cassia is hard and pungent and can even have a bitter taste and it is comparatively heavy. Ceylon is refined and delicate with a more complex taste with citrus and floral overtones and is sweeter. The things we call cinnamon sticks, the curled dried inner bark of cinnamon trees, are called quills. Ceylon quills break easily into a powder. Not good for Christmas decorations or fancy holiday straws like the Cassia, but great for cooking and baking fine foods and desserts.


Understanding Coumarin

You have heard me mention coumarin before in a good way. This was regarding its presence in other herbs where it helps regulate the thickness of the blood keeping it from getting gloppy among other things. In this situation - Mother Nature's recipe, there are loads of vitamins and antioxidants that keep it from doing anything bad and there are safeties. If you get too much of a substance it tells the body to get rid of it through vomit or diarrhea.

The problem is that coumarin is isolated to make blood thinning drugs and cosmetic additives and flavorings, and in its isolated state it can cause problems such as liver damage.  So you will hear it being referred to as a toxin because concern that eating too much "Cassia" cinnamon could cause liver damage.

I believe this is doubtful, but if you did eat too much you would experience the unpleasant safeties built into a natural substance. All can be taken care of in the restroom. Fortunately, the Cinnamon in Herbal Roots' products is pure Ceylon Cinnamon. So no matter how much you consume, coumarin won't be a problem.

Cinnamon’s History

Cinnamon is a spice that in its early days seduced the whole world. The word goes back to the Malay word "kayumanis" meaning sweet wood.

Fantastic stories were concocted about its origin by traders to conceal its real source. Moves were made and wars were waged and rewaged just to get or keep a monopoly on the spice. Consequently a good bit of "information" on the subject is contradicting. Tracking down the truth about cinnamon through all the different versions of truth has been an adventure.

Here are a couple of stories for example:

Cinnamon is from Paradise and it floats downstream on an unmanned palette and is captured before being lost at the rapids or waterfall.

Cinnamon is found in the nest of huge birds. The way it is harvested is you put out huge chunks of deer meat and the birds take the meat back to the nest which imbalances it and when the nest topples harvesters run around gathering the quills.

Complete nonsense, but it added to the mystique and enabled the charging of high prices and no one could muscle in on the monopoly not knowing where it was found. Until the Portuguese "discovered" it and waged war on the island and told everyone they owned it. Before that the Arabs had it and they kept it a secret.

Then the Dutch after a while took it from the Portuguese. Then the British got involved and waged war on the Dutch.

Then someone stole some seeds and shoots and it started to be grown in neighboring areas and Northern Africa. Well somehow, not surprisingly, it wound up in Mexico too.

Finally Ceylon became a Republic in the Commonwealth in 1972 and renamed itself Sri Lanka. And Ceylon cinnamon is still their largest export item next to tea. About 350,000 families work in the cinnamon business in Sri Lanka.

Benefits of Cinnamon

Some don't even consider Cassia a cinnamon, but that was largely due to marketing done by Ceylon promoters. Both Cassia and Ceylon are in the same genus let alone the same family and if you didn't know anything and tasted either you would still say "That's cinnamon". But you would notice a difference too.

The cinnamon used in Traditional Chinese Medicine was more than likely its own Cassia. In Ayurveda it may have been a mix since India is so close to Sri Lanka. They certainly use them both in cuisine.

In TCM it was used to:

  • Boost energy levels
  • Increase circulation
  • Reduce flatulence
  • Bring back homeostasis after biological intrusions.
  • Help nausea  
  • Help diarrhea 
  • Help with painful periods

In Ayurveda it was used to:

  • Enhance libido
  • Prevent gastrointestinal problems
  • Increase circulation 
  • Relieve indigestion 
  • Help people that had excessive phlegm in the system 
  • Help sugar metabolism

Maybe in ancient times we didn't have problems with excess fat, but we do now and recent studies show that cinnamon takes fat out of the bloodstream which helps the heart and the waistline. 

Since it has a unique and plentiful antioxidant profile, it also acts like a chaperone preventing bad reactions from too much sugar intake and makes it safe for the body to stop ignoring insulin. The body ignores insulin after a while because it doesn't like the effects of bludgeoning the body with useless excess sugar that causes massive free radical damage.The potent antioxidants also protect the delicate tissues of the body such as the eyes and brain.

There are many many volatile oils in cinnamon. Each different kind of cinnamon has its own profile of proportions of these ingredients.

The most plentiful volatile and essential oil is Cinnamaldehyde. It gives that spicey bite to the flavor. Eugenol is the next most plentiful.

Eugenol is a very beneficial substance. It causes the repair of DNA and helps destroy any abnormal proliferation of cells in the body. It also soothes and relaxes body tissues and holds down overreactions that can cause discomfort and maladies. It also keeps the body clear of intruders.

This probably accounts for why cinnamon has a long history throughout the world of preserving things. Including the mummies in Egypt, agricultural crops as well as machinery where the metal is sprinkled with powdered cinnamon to inhibit corrosion.

Did you ever notice how cinnamon makes you feel when you eat it? It is no wonder that it is used for festive occasions and desserts. It's no wonder it drove Man's exploration and progress through history.

I can't wait to add cinnamon to my diet on a regular basis! 

Stock up on Organic Ceylon Cinnamon today!

 

*This article is intended for informational purposes. The statements above have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Author

Rosalie Roder got her Bachelors' degrees in Chemistry and Biology from Mary Baldwin University in 1983. After graduation, with that background, her real education on natural health and healing and human potential began. It is a never ending study and she is always happy to share what she has found out so far.