Ceylon Cinnamon or Cassia: What's the Difference?
You’ll be amazed when you find out just what separates these two types of the same spice!
Most people walk into a supermarket and buy cinnamon—either ground or in sticks—without giving a second thought to what type of cinnamon they’re purchasing.
Well, that’s because the majority of commercially-sold cinnamon is all the same type. However, it’s not the only type of cinnamon around, and it’s certainly not the best.
(Hint: it’s just the cheapest.)
Below, we’re going to take a deep dive into the world of cinnamon and look at both types—Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon—to help you understand which can help change your life today.
A Tale of Two Cinnamons
Cinnamon is a spice that is made from the Cinnamomum tree. Specifically, the inner bark is shaved off the tree, dried in strips, and used either in stick form or ground into powder.
Cinnamon contains some pretty amazing compounds, including cinnamaldehyde, as well as essential oils. Together, these compounds and essential oils provide all of the amazing healing, anti-diabetic, and immune-boosting benefits that make cinnamon such an awesome spice.
But let’s drill down a bit deeper…
There are two types of cinnamon, and they come from two different Cinnamomum trees.
Cassia cinnamon is derived from the Cinnamomum cassia tree, a tree also known as Cinnamomum aromaticum. Originating from Southern China, it was originally called Chinese cinnamon. It’s characterized by its rough texture and dark red-brown color. Cassia cinnamon sticks tend to be thicker, too.
Cassia cinnamon is the most widely available type of cinnamon, due simply to the fact that it’s cheap. Virtually all of the cinnamon you’ll find in supermarkets will be cassia cinnamon, and it’s typically used in both traditional Chinese medicine and cuisines around the world. It’s got a very strong, spicy flavor, thanks to the fact that 95% of the essential oils in cassia cinnamon is cinnemaldehyde.
Ceylon cinnamon, on the other hand, comes from the Cinnamomum verum tree. It’s known as “true cinnamon”, and it grows almost exclusively in southern India and on the island of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon). It’s characterized by a tan-brown color, soft layers, and tight sticks.
Unlike cassia cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon only contains roughly 50 to 63% cinnamaldehyde, which gives it a much milder flavor and aroma than the more common cinnamon. The delicate, mildly sweet flavor is far better for producing desserts, as it doesn’t have the “kick” that cassia cinnamon does. However, its high price tag means it’s far harder to come by than regular cassia cinnamon.
The Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Extensive research has been done into the benefits of cinnamon, and science has discovered all kinds of awesome effects cinnamon can have on the human body.
One of the most important effects of cinnamon is its ability to reduce diabetes risk. Not only can it help to improve blood sugar control, but it will reduce blood sugar spikes. It can also improve the metabolic markers associated with diabetes and increase insulin sensitivity. The result: better blood sugar regulation, and thus a much lower chance of developing diabetes. For diabetics, cinnamon can be an amazing remedy to help manage their condition.
Studies have also discovered that cinnamon can block a protein called tau from building up in the brain. Tau buildup is one of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease, so it’s believed that blocking the tau protein could help to decrease neurodegeneration and protect the brain.
Other benefits of cinnamon include:
- High antioxidant content, which can help to scavenge free radicals and reduce oxidative damage
- Decreased inflammation, thanks to its anti-inflammatory properties
- Lower risk of heart disease and reduced cholesterol levels
- Potentially useful for protecting against and treating cancer
- Anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent
- Possibly effective at fighting the HIV virus
(Note: Most of the studies done into the beneficial effects of cinnamon have been conducted using cassia cinnamon, thanks to its higher cinnamaldehyde content. However, the studies have failed to make a distinction between the two cinnamons, so there is no difference in the health benefits they provide.)
The One Huge Difference Between Cassia and Ceylon Cinnamon
Though there are no differences in the health benefits these two types of cinnamon provide, there is one very big, very important distinction: Ceylon cinnamon is far less dangerous!
You may be thinking, “Wait, what? Cinnamon is dangerous? How did I not know that?”
Here’s the thing: most people don’t know about the one potentially dangerous compound in cinnamon. This compound, called coumarin, is actually found in a number of plant species, including cinnamon. It’s known to be toxic—animal studies have linked it to lung, liver, and kidney damage, as well as potential cancer risk.
Current standards estimate the “Tolerable Daily Intake” of coumarin to be roughly 0.05 milligrams per pound of body weight. Any more, and you’re at risk of serious health problems.
Cassia cinnamon contains roughly 1% coumarin, which means that just one or two teaspoons of this type of cinnamon could raise your levels of this dangerous compound beyond what is “safe”.
On the other hand, Ceylon cinnamon contains just 0.004% coumarin. That’s 250 times less! In fact, coumarin levels in Ceylon cinnamon are so low they’re often undetectable.
As you can no doubt imagine, Ceylon cinnamon is the far safer choice for you to take regularly and in significant quantities. Adding cinnamon into your meals is an excellent way for you to increase your cinnamon intake and benefit from the amazing properties of cinnemaldehyde. Adding Ceylon cinnamon instead of Cassia cinnamon can ensure you’re doing so safely!
And the same definitely holds true for any cinnamon supplement you’re considering. A supplement made using Cassia cinnamon extract may contain more coumarin than you want to consume, and there is a very real risk of health problems if you take large quantities of extracted Cassia cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon, on the other hand, can be taken in far greater amounts without putting your body at risk, thanks to its exponentially lower coumarin content.
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