Cinnamon, one of the oldest and most popular spices in the world, has a rich history and is highly regarded for its unique properties. Belonging to the Lauraceae family, it encompasses over 250 species and sub-species. The prized and rare variety of cinnamon, known as “Ceylon cinnamon,” is native to Sri Lanka. It enjoys a high reputation and demand worldwide due to its distinct chemical composition.
Ceylon cinnamon is composed of more than 80 chemical components. The bark contains cinnamaldehyde, while the leaf oil is rich in eugenol. This valuable spice not only adds flavor to dishes but has also been used in medicine, medical production, perfume production, and even soft drinks. Today, cinnamon is widely utilized in pharmaceutical, bakery, and cosmetic industries across the globe.
Varieties of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is categorized into several main types based on physical location and chemical characteristics. These varieties differ significantly from one another but are commonly known as “cinnamon” in the global market.
- Ceylon Cinnamon (True/Pure Cinnamon) – Cinnamomum zeylanicum syn. Cinnamomum verum, Cinnamomum zeylanicum blume
- Chinese Cassia (Chinese Cinnamon) – Cinnamomum cassia syn. C. aromaticum
- Vietnamese Cassia (Saigon/Vietnamese Cinnamon) – Cinnamomum loureiroi
- Indonesian Cassia (Korintje Cinnamon) – Cinnamomum burmannii
Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia are the main species traded internationally under the term “Cinnamon.” Both belong to the Lauraceae family. Cassia cinnamon consists of different sub-varieties originating from various countries, including Chinese cassia, Vietnamese cassia, and Indonesian cassia.
Ceylon cinnamon, also known as the rare and expensive variety, is highly recommended over other types such as Cassia, Korintje, and Saigon. True cinnamon ranks as the fourth most expensive spice globally. Sri Lanka, a small Asian country, accounts for 80%-90% of the world’s Ceylon cinnamon production.
China, specifically the Kwangsi and Kwangtung Provinces, is the primary producer and exporter of Chinese cassia. This variety is readily available in the international market.
Formerly sourced from the region around Saigon in Vietnam, Vietnamese cassia is now cultivated in central regions of central Vietnam. This variety is characterized by its strong spicy taste, high oil content, and elevated coumarin levels.
Cultivated in West Sumatra and western Jambi province in Indonesia, Indonesian cassia is the most common and affordable variety available in the US market. Unlike other types, its leaf oil does not contain eugenol.
True Cinnamon: What You Need to Know
True cinnamon, also known as Ceylon cinnamon, originates from Sri Lanka. It comes from the Cinnamomum verum tree, a member of the Lauraceae family. The naturally dried inner bark of this tree undergoes a meticulous handcrafted process to produce the valuable spice known for its sweet taste and confirmed health benefits.
Ceylon cinnamon stands out in the global market due to its distinct aroma, quality, health benefits, and ultra-low coumarin content. The quills are specially prepared using a unique technique passed down through generations in Sri Lanka. While Sri Lankan cinnamon is exported worldwide, the main markets are the USA, Mexico, Europe, Spain, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala, Bolivia, and Chile.
The term “Ceylon cinnamon” is usually used to label Cinnamomum verum. However, if you live in Europe or America, the cinnamon in your pantry is likely a cassia variety labeled as “cinnamon.”
Mexico serves as a major buyer for true cinnamon, and it is sometimes referred to as Mexican cinnamon (Canela) in the market. However, it is important to note that cinnamon cultivation does not occur in Mexico. Canela refers to the same Cinnamomum verum sticks imported from Sri Lanka.
Ceylon vs. Cassia
Cinnamomum verum and Cinnamomum cassia are entirely different spices, with the major distinction being their coumarin content. C. verum contains an ultra-low amount of coumarin, while cassia and its varieties have significantly higher levels. German health authorities have warned against regular consumption of cassia due to its higher coumarin content.
Here is a comparison between Ceylon Cinnamon (CZ) and Cassia Cinnamom (CC):
|Ceylon Cinnamon (CZ)||Cassia Cinnamom (CC)|
|Price||Very expensive and rare to find||Common and cheap spice|
|Coumarin Content||Contains ultra-low coumarin (~0.004%)||Coumarin level is 1200 times higher (~5%)|
|Usage Recommendation||Recommended for daily use by doctors||Not recommended for daily use as it may cause health problems|
|Bark Color||Tan brown||Reddish dark brown|
|Bark Thickness||Very light paper thickness with multiple layers rolled up as coil||Uneven thickness with mostly single layers when rolled up|
|Fragility||Fragile||Hard and difficult to grind|
|Flavor||Delicate and sweet, creates an excellent flavor and aroma||Pungent and full-bodied taste, recommended for Chinese foods|
|Availability||Not available in China||Not available in Sri Lanka|
Sri Lanka: The Hub of Cinnamon Products
The term “Ceylon” refers to the former name of the Asian country, Sri Lanka. Cinnamon grown in Sri Lanka is commonly known as “Ceylon cinnamon.” The tropical climate, fertile soil, and abundant rainfall in the country’s southern coast provide the ideal conditions for spice cultivation.
Sri Lanka holds a monopoly in the international market for Cinnamomum verum products, representing 80%-90% of global production. The remaining production comes from Seychelles, Madagascar, and a few other countries.
Identifying True Cinnamon
High-quality pure cinnamon exclusively comes from Sri Lanka. Differentiating true cinnamon quills is relatively easy, as the form of quills is native to Sri Lanka. True quills consist of several folds of light brown layers, resembling a cigar. In contrast, cassia quills have inward-folded thick and dark brown layers (mostly single layers) that create a hollow in the middle. Refer to Table-01 for a comprehensive comparison between the two major varieties.
- Sticks: Full tubes of typically 42 inches long, prepared by joining scrapped inner bark segments of the plant with small overlaps. The hollow is filled with small pieces of the peel and dried through air curing.
- Quillings: Broken cinnamon tubes, consisting of pieces and splits of varying sizes across all grades.
- Featherings: Pieces of inner bark obtained from peeling and/or scraping the bark of small twigs and stalks, which may include unpeelable bark chips.
- Chips: Dried bark, including the outer bark, obtained by beating or scraping the remaining shoots in the plantation after harvest.
- Cinnamon Powder: Also known as ground cinnamon, this is powdered cinnamon made from grinding cinnamon sticks. Be cautious when buying ground cinnamon, as lower quality parts may be used in the preparation process.
- Cinnamon Oil: Sri Lanka has a long history of producing and exporting cinnamon essential oils, particularly bark oil and leaf oil. Leaf oil contains a higher amount of eugenol, while bark oil primarily consists of cinnamaldehyde.
- Leaf Oil: Steam-distilled from collected leaves and twigs, it contains a higher amount of eugenol (68-87%) and a lesser amount of cinnamaldehyde (0.5-1%).
- Bark Oil: Steam-distilled from cinnamon bark, it contains mainly cinnamaldehyde (63-75%) and eugenol (2-13%).
- Cassia Oil: Unlike Ceylon cinnamon, cassia oil is distilled from a mixture of various parts of the tree, resulting in a single type of oil.
Benefits of Cinnamon
- Treatment for Diabetes: Studies have shown that cinnamon helps control blood sugar levels. Consumption of this spice is associated with a decrease in fasting plasma glucose, total cholesterol, LDL-C, and triglyceride levels, as well as an increase in HDL-C levels.
- For High Blood Pressure: Cinnamon’s chemical components positively affect the circulatory system, leading to lower blood pressure. Research has shown its notable reduction in systolic and diastolic blood pressure.
- Cholesterol-Lowering Effect: Cinnamon has been found to lower cholesterol levels. Multiple human and animal studies confirm its effectiveness in reducing mean fasting serum glucose, triglyceride, and LDL cholesterol levels.
- Weight Loss: Cinnamon, in conjunction with a controlled eating plan and regular exercise, can support weight loss efforts due to its insulin-boosting and related abilities. Studies have shown its potential fat-lowering effects.
Side Effects and Safety
True cinnamon is a safe spice commonly used in traditional Sri Lankan dishes. The US Department of Health suggests a safe intake of up to 6 grams daily for 6 weeks or less if consumed as a supplement.
On the other hand, Chinese cassia contains significantly higher concentrations of coumarin, which may lead to health problems if consumed regularly and in large amounts. Cassia contains approximately 1200 times more naturally occurring coumarin than Ceylon cinnamon. Coumarin is moderately toxic to the liver and kidneys. European health agencies have advised against regular consumption of cassia cinnamon due to its high coumarin content.
Where to Buy Ceylon Cinnamon
If you seek true cinnamon, Sri Lanka is the safest source, as it exclusively produces Cinnamomum verum products. However, it is crucial to differentiate true cinnamon from inferior brands like Cassia, which is commonly sold as cinnamon in conventional stores.
While Sri Lankan suppliers and growers do not typically have retail stores in other countries, some retailers import true cinnamon from Sri Lanka. Look for Sri Lankan spice shops in your country, where you will likely find true cinnamon.
Alternatively, the smartest way to purchase true cinnamon from Sri Lanka is through reputable online vendors who specifically own plantations in the country. These vendors deliver recently harvested products from Sri Lanka to customers worldwide while maintaining their reputation for selling only pure cinnamon.
When buying online, make sure to choose trustworthy sites that provide customer feedback and testimonials. These sources will ensure you receive high-quality Ceylon cinnamon with all its attached health benefits, taste, and aroma.
For more information, visit DHPL Travels and explore the world of Ceylon cinnamon.
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