You may be surprised to know that most of the “cinnamon” sold in Europe and North America is actually not cinnamon at all. It is a similar spice more properly known as cassia, and it does not provide the valuable health benefits of Ceylon cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon is in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil and the Caribbean. Cassia, sometimes called Chinese cinnamon or Saigon cinnamon, is grown primarily in Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea.
Cinnamon has been used for thousands of years to seas food and for its medicinal qualities. Ancient Egyptians used cinnamon in their embalming rituals. The Emperor Nero showed his devotion to his late wife by having a year’s supply of cinnamon burned on her funeral pyre.
There are several differences between the two cinnamons. Ceylon cinnamon costs more and is more difficult to find. It is more refined, lighter and sweeter than cassia, and it is a better choice for use in sweet desserts. The heaver cassia cinnamon is suited to savory dishes.
A more important difference, however, is the level of coumarin, a natural compound that functions as a blood thinner when ingested. Cassia has a much higher level of coumarin than Ceylon cinnamon. In fact, patients on blood thinning medications such as warfarin are encouraged to limit their intake of cinnamon, but this applies much more to cassia than real cinnamon.
Both kinds of cinnamon are very good sources of manganese, a trace mineral essential to healthy bones and the metabolism of carbohydrates and fats. They are both rich in dietary fiber, iron and calcium. Fiber and calcium work together to lower the likelihood of colon cancer, reduce cholesterol levels, and relieve constipation and diarrhea.
Here are six reasons to eat the real cinnamon, every day:
1. It lowers blood sugar levels. – Cinnamon normalizes blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics by reducing insulin resistance. Less than half a teaspoon a day reduces blood sugar levels.
2. It improves heart health. – A research study completed in 2003 found that type 2 diabetic subjects who ate between one and six grams of cinnamon (about 2 teaspoons) daily for 40 days lowered their blood sugar levels by 18 – 29 percent, and also reduced triglycerides by 23 to 30 percent, their LDL (bad) cholesterol by 7 to 27 percent, and their total cholesterol by 12 to 26 percent.
3. It assists in blood clotting. – Extensive research has shown cinnamon supports the healthy clotting of blood platelets.
4. It fights bacteria and fungus – Ayurvedic medicine prizes cinnamon for its anti-microbial qualities. Cinnamon fights not just bacteria, but also viruses, fungi and Candida.
5. It boosts memory and protects the brain.- The simple act of smelling cinnamon, or chewing cinnamon flavored gum, improves brain activity. Research shows it improves memory attention, and cognition.
6. It improves digestion. – Traditional Chinese medicine uses cinnamon for flatulence, nausea and diarrhea. It supports digestion of fruit and dairy products.
Although both cassia and Ceylon cinnamon offer some health benefits, spend a little extra month and get the real thing. You will notice it is a lighter shade of brown, a finer texture and a sweeter scent – and it is work the extra expenditure of time and money.