Having worked as a bibliophilic nutritionist who loves scouring the internet for the latest research and recipes I still find areas where I have HUGE gaps in knowledge, such as the topic of today’s article: the difference between “true” Ceylon cinnamon and the kind that is typically sold at grocery stores as cinnamon, cassia cinnamon, or Saigon cinnamon. One of these spices is packed full of health benefits, while the other has the potential to cause damage to our livers when taken in access.
I was thrilled to be asked to investigate this topic as it combines two of my favourite things: cinnamon and research and I have to admit, I was a little bit surprised at the conclusion I came to. Is there any spice in our cupboards that elicit more feelings of comfort, provide such deliciousness, or evoke some of our most treasured childhood memories? I don’t think there is, so lets make sure we’re buying the best, health-promoting version of this spice that we can!
What’s the Difference?
True cinnamon and the other, cheaper to produce varieties of cinnamon actually come from a completely different species of tree. True cinnamon is typically produced in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil, or the Caribbean, while it’s false cousin is usually grown in either China, Indonesia, or Vietnam.
Another difference is in appearance and flavour. While the cinnamon we’re used to seeing on the grocery store shelves is typically dark reddish brown and tastes quite spicy, true cinnamon is much lighter in colour and has a sweeter, more mild, yet still overwhelmingly delicious, flavour.
Finally, the biggest and most relevant difference between cinnamons is the content of a compound called coumarin. Ceylon cinnamon contains about 0.017 g/kg while other types of cinnamon contain from 2.15–6.97 g/kg of coumarin.
This compound is a blood thinner and anti-coagulant, so it is not recommended for those already on medications such as Warfarin. In addition to its effect on the blood, studies have also found that coumarin is toxic to the liver when we consume above the tolerable daily intake, which is set at 0.1mg/kg of body weight.
That means for someone who weighs 68 kg they would have a TDI of 6.8mg/day. Since one gram of cinnamon can contain between 2.15-6.97mg of coumarin, you could be reaching that upper limit by consuming about 1/5 of a tsp. per day. If you want to take cinnamon for health benefits you’ll likely be taking a bit more than this, so it’s best to stick with Ceylon cinnamon, just to be safe. Your liver does a lot for you, so show it some love by treating it to the best quality spices!
How do You Find the Best Quality?
Look for cinnamon that is labeled as either:
Buy organic cinnamon to prevent contamination with pesticides and other fillers or preservatives.
If you’re buying the bark, true cinnamon “sticks” will often curl in a circle, instead of in the characteristic two-curled stick.
It is often lighter brown in colour and more powdery and fluffy than conventionally sold cinnamon.
It will usually be more expensive. This isn’t always the best indicator, but when combined with a couple of the other points above it can be helpful.
What are the Health Benefits of True Cinnamon?
Now that you know the differences between the types of cinnamon on the shelf and how to buy the best quality product lets take a look at the incredible health benefits and nutrients contained in this super spice.
- It’s a great source of manganese, which is a trace mineral that you need in order to build healthy bones and properly metabolism fats and carbs. Cinnamon also contains fibre to help digestion, calcium for strong bones, and iron for energy production. That’s a lot of nutrition hiding in a delicious package!
- Cinnamon is an incredibly potent anti-bacterial, antifungal, and antiviral, which means it can help your immune system protect you from the colds and flus circulating at school, home, or the office!
- Research suggests that its anti-inflammatory benefits may be protective against neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Since this disease is becoming increasingly prevalent in North America, learning that certain common foods can provide protective benefits is incredibly empowering!
- If you suffer from prediabetes, Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, or PCOS cinnamon can be a true lifesaver! It has been shown in studies that even small amounts, as little as ½ tsp./day, can help lower your fasting glucose levels—the fancy terms for the amount of sugar circulating in our blood between meals—, HbA1C, and blood pressure by improving your response to insulin.
- We’re all getting older every single day (lucky us!), but incorporating cinnamon into your daily routine can help prevent signs of aging thanks to its potent effects on inflammatory and oxidative compounds in the body.
Spicy Cinnamon Sweet Potato Hash Browns
1 Tbsp. Coconut oil, butter, or ghee
½ sweet potato, chopped into cubes
1 Tbsp. red or yellow onion, diced.
1 tsp. cinnamon: You can add more or less depending on preference. I friggen love cinnamon so I load these bad boys up.
¼ tsp. cayenne: I like them a little spicier, so feel free to play around with measurements.
Sea salt to taste
Makes one serving
Heat oil of choice in a frying pan on medium heat. Make sure the entire bottom of the pan is covered.
Add sweet potatoes, onions, cinnamon, cayenne, and salt.
Stir together using a spatula.
Cover for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Once hash browns are soft, remove cover and sauté for an additional minute.
Remove from frying pan and serve.
Options for Topping:
Eggs—scrambled, over easy, poached
Nuts & Seeds—I like a combination of walnuts and hemp hearts for a good protein source.
Ground meat—turkey, chicken, beef, bison. Season it with your favorite herbs and spices and pop it on!