Most of the cinnamon found in the spice aisle in the market isn’t cinnamon at all, but cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon (cinnamomum verum) is true cinnamon, and it comes from the inner bark of a Sri Lankan evergreen tree. Ceylon cinnamon may have some different health effects than cassia cinnamon.
Both cassia cinnamon and Ceylon cinnamon have a similar flavour and color, although Ceylon cinnamon tends to be lighter in color and milder in flavour with a more delicate scent. Cassia cinnamon comes from the inner bark of an evergreen tree, as well. The tree is native to East Asia. Many people buy cassia cinnamon instead of Ceylon cinnamon because cassia cinnamon is much less expensive. Because of this, most commercial baked goods typically contain cassia cinnamon instead of Ceylon cinnamon.
The main difference, health-wise, between cassia cinnamon and Ceylon cinnamon is the presence of a compound called coumarin. Cassia cinnamon contains coumarin, a compound that has been linked to liver damage according to Medical News Today. In fact, cassia cinnamon powder has as much as 63 times more coumarin than Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon sticks have about 18 times more coumarin than those made with Ceylon cinnamon.
An article in the February, 2010 issue of Molecular Nutrition and Food Research notes cassia cinnamon to be both hepatotoxic (damaging the liver) and carcinogenic (cancer-causing). The article noted that in a survey, heavy consumption of baked goods containing cassia cinnamon were likely to exceed safe amounts of this substance. However, Ceylon cinnamon is very low in coumarin (less than 1/100 of a percent), so intake of foods made with Ceylon cinnamon were unlikely to be toxic.
Mother Nature Network notes that, because of this, Germany has placed a safe upper limit on daily consumption of cassia cinnamon – 0.7 ounces (2 grams) per day or less for an adult weighing 132 pounds. There is currently no established upper limit for consumption of Ceylon cinnamon.
Ceylon cinnamon have numerous health benefits, including:
Along with these benefits, both types of cinnamon can also help people on low-sugar diets, because it sweetens food naturally without the need for sugar. Because Ceylon cinnamon is sweeter in flavour than cassia cinnamon, it serves as a wonderful sweetening agent in foods and smoothies that may help you require less sugar to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Due to its potential for toxicity related to coumarin, Ceylon cinnamon has the health edge when it comes to the above listed benefits. Because it is more affordable – and more readily available – cassia cinnamon has been studied much more than Ceylon cinnamon. However, some small-scale and animal studies have shown potential benefits specific to Ceylon cinnamon.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease showed that an extract of Ceylon cinnamon inhibited two hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, tau aggregation and filament foundation. However, this was an in vitro study (in the test tube – and not on living humans). No human studies have shown benefits for dementia or Alzheimer’s disease at this time. Further research is required.
An animal study published in the April-June 2012 issue of Pharmacognosy Research showed Ceylon cinnamon lowered blood glucose levels, decreased food intake, and improved blood lipids (cholesterol and triglycerides) in rats with diabetes.
In 2013, BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine performed a systematic review of studies performed only on Ceylon cinnamon, examining potential health benefits. While the majority of the studies were in vitro, animal studies, or limited studies, the review concluded Ceylon cinnamon may have the following health benefits:
The best way to tell the difference is by reading labels. Look for cinnamon labeled Ceylon cinnamon or Sri Lankan cinnamon. If it doesn’t have that label, chances are it is cassia cinnamon. For cinnamon sticks, look for tightly coiled, thin layers of bark, which is indicative of Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is thicker with fewer coils throughout, and tends to be more loosely wound.
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Research suggests cinnamon has many health benefits. However, many experts feel with the potential hepatotoxic (liver damaging) and carcinogenic (cancer causing) effects of coumarin, which is found in high concentrations in cassia cinnamon, you are better off seeking those health benefits from Ceylon cinnamon.