I’m a firm believer in natural homeopathic remedies. So, when I learned that cinnamon can help with weight management by keeping blood sugar spikes in check and staving off cravings, I was on it. I started sprinkling a generous teaspoonful in my chai, and, sure enough, it wasn’t long before I noticed a significant reduction in my appetite. Still, I wondered if I had been using the right amount of cinnamon and if I was consuming it in the most effective way, so I decided to do a little research.
My search for the proper quantity soon turned into a search for the truth. As I browsed websites touting the best quality cinnamon, I ran across a few facts not widely known by even the most ardent lovers of the spice. Brace yourself. There are two kinds of cinnamon— the real one, and a potentially dangerous imposter.
Cinnamon verum, also known as “real cinnamon” is a plant native to Sri Lanka, formerly known as Ceylon. Ceylon cinnamon is the real thing while what we often assume to be cinnamon is actually cassia.
Cassia comes from a tree native to southeast Asia, and differs slightly from Ceylon cinnamon in both look and flavor. Cinnamon verum has a lighter color and a spicy, earthy flavor. The sticks of Ceylon cinnamon versus cassia are particularly distinctive as cassia’s sticks are thicker and darker in color. Both cinnamon verum and cassia are delicious and the difference in flavor and appearance wouldn’t matter much were it not for one important factor— coumarin.
Cassia, unlike cinnamon verum, contains significant levels of coumarin, a naturally-occurring compound which can be toxic to the kidneys and liver when consumed in large doses by those sensitive to it. But before you assume that its toxicity may not pose much of a risk to you, consider that coumarin has been banned as a food additive precisely because of its potential risk. What’s more, the type of cinnamon commonly found in supermarket aisles and in cinnamon-flavored foods such as cereals and baked goods is often cassia, not cinnamon verum.
Those, like me, who are taking cinnamon in medicinal quantities in order to benefit from its ability to regulate blood sugar should note the possible effects of high levels of coumarin and stick to the real thing. Parents also should be particularly on guard with their children’s consumption of cinnamon-flavored goods such as cereals, cinnamon rolls and candies.
So what’s the good news for cinnamon lovers? Luckily, cinnamon verum contains negligible amounts of coumarin and is well worth the few extra dollars you might pay for it. Just be sure the packaging indicates you’re purchasing cinnamon verum or Ceylon cinnamon. I picked up a jar of Ceylon cinnamon at Whole Foods for about $6. It’s definitely worth the peace of mind.