Cinnamon has been used as a culinary and medicinal spice for thousands of years.
Culinary Cinnamon – As a high raw food eater, I hear this question often during the fall months as people anticipate even cooler temperatures than this season allows, “Don’t you crave warm foods in the colder weather?” The short answer is, “Well, not so much, but I’m very happy to have learned to pay closer attention to some of warming spices, all highly nutritious, that nature provides us.” Autumn is, indeed the time for the comforting natural warmth of cinnamon, surely one of the most popular spices on almost anyone’s spice rack.
Cinnamon comes from the fragrant inner bark of a group of small evergreen trees called Cinnamomum. There are two major types used in food preparation. The first, Ceylon cinnamon, native to Sri Lanka, is known as “true cinnamon,” but it is not the predominant variety sold in the United States. What is commonly found at local grocer’s is a closely related and less expensive variety called Cassia cinnamon, which is native to Burma and also grown in China and Vietnam. Its color is slightly darker than Ceylon, and has a stronger, more pungent flavor. Ceylon cinnamon is considered a finer quality spice due to its sweeter, more delicate and complex flavor.
Another notable difference between Ceylon and Cassia is the coumarin content of Cassia. Cassia cinnamon is the main source of coumarin in the human diet. Coumarin is a naturally occurring toxin which has the potential to damage the liver in high doses. Cassia contains high levels of coumarin, whereas Ceylon contains either undetectalble levels or only traces of coumarin. Coumarin can cause liver damage in several species, and was found to be carcinogenic in rodents.
Recent studies have revealed that regularly consuming Cassia cinnamon powder could be problematic, resulting in potentially harmful levels of coumarin intake. For example, one study estimated that small children eating oatmeal sprinkled with cinnamon a few times a week would exceed the established safe upper limit of exposure. Similarly, they concluded that adults who are heavy consumers of culinary cinnamon or take powdered cinnamon supplements could also reach potentially unsafe doses.
For food preparation, Ceylon cinnamon is he clear choice for health, quality, and flavor.
Supplemental Cinnamon – Cinnamon is one of the oldest and most widely used natural supplements for reducing blood glucose. It contains phytochemicals that enhance insulin signaling and facilitate glucose uptake and storage by the body’s cells. Supplemental cinnamon powder and extracts have been shown in numerous studies to reduce fasting blood glucose in people with diabetes. Supplements containing cinnamon may be used as an adjunct to a high-nutrient eating style and exercise program. However, based on the concerns mentioned above regarding Cassia cinnamon, it may be wise to note which cinnamon is contained in the supplement. Excess coumarin, even in a supplement may cause problems.
Conclusion – Cinnamon is spite of rather recent discoveries about excessive use still a time-tried favorite, is a comforting, flavorful warming spice for the fall. It can also be helpful in helping the body to maintain safe blood glucose levels. Both as a culinary delight and a healing substance, it is a supplement to an otherwise healthy diet and lifestyle. Choose Ceylon cinnamon when you can, most likely available at health food stores. As always, buy organic cinnamon when possible, and enjoy!