I know it’s only September, but the holidays will be here faster than we can imagine (they always seem to sneak up on me!) and with that, for many of us, comes holiday baking! And whatever goodies you may be planning to create this year they, most likely, will have cinnamon as an ingredient. Because, nothing compares, in my opinion, to the richness and depth that it brings to any dish, even savory ones. But, did you know that the type of cinnamon you use can affect your health? More about that in a bit, but first let’s talk about where cinnamon comes from.
All cinnamon is derived from the fragrant inner bark of small evergreen trees called Cinnamomum and cinnamon has been used as a culinary and medicinal spice for many thousands of years. Now, there are two major types of cinnamon used in food, they are: Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon. The really good stuff is Ceylon cinnamon, but this is NOT the type typically sold as cinnamon in the USA. What you normally find at your grocer is its closely related cousin and less expensive type called Cassia cinnamon. Cassia will be slightly darker in color compared to Ceylon and is much stronger and more pungent in flavor. Both Cassia and Ceylon are derived from the inner bark of Cinnamomum trees, but Ceylon cinnamon is preferable in terms of flavor and health.
First, Ceylon cinnamon is much finer quality spice due to its sweeter, more delicate and complex flavor. Second, a huge difference between Ceylon and Cassia is the coumarin content of Cassia. Coumarin is a naturally occurring toxin and has the potential to damage the liver in high doses. Yikes! And would you believe that Cassia cinnamon is the main source of coumarin in the human diet? While Cassia contains high levels of coumarin, Ceylon contains either undetectable levels or only traces.
Studies have shown that regularly consuming Cassia cinnamon powder could be detrimental because of the potentially harmful levels of coumarin intake. In fact, one study estimated that small children and adults eating oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon a few times a week would exceed the established safe upper limit of exposure!
So, Ceylon cinnamon is clearly the winner for health, quality and flavor. I use it on my steel cut oats at breakfast. Yum! It also adds a fabulous flavor to, would you believe, chili? Just a tiny pinch will do. If you have never tried Ceylon cinnamon, you are in for a treat! My favorite brand is Frontier Coop Organic Ceylon Cinnamon and I get it at Vitacost.com. To your good health!