For fine desserts, Ceylon Cinnamon is an absolute must because it is subtle, smells very mild, and is slightly sweeter. It never takes center stage in the recipe but adds a very complex flavor. Although Ceylon Cinnamon smells mild, if you grind and add it to baked goods or Cinnamon French toast, the aroma it gives off is very sophisticated and fragrant.
Most well-established recipes that call for cinnamon came from Europe or the middle east and should use Ceylon Cinnamon. The same applies to any Mexican recipes that call for cinnamon. This is because the taste profile of these desserts was designed with Ceylon Cinnamon. Mexico is the biggest importer of Ceylon Cinnamon.
However, because the supply in the US is overwhelmingly Cassia Cinnamon, most people have been using Cassia Cinnamon. That makes the desserts taste very different. Even many Mexican desserts made in the US erroneously substitute Cassia Cinnamon, which ruins the original taste profile of the dessert. Because Ceylon Cinnamon tends to be mild and sweet, it lends itself to creating sophisticated layers of flavors that are not possible with the harsher Cassia Cinnamon.
Most cinnamon sold in the United States is the cassia variety, often labeled as Chinese cinnamon. Its scientific name is Cinnamomum cassia, also known as Cinnamomum aromaticaum. Ceylon cinnamon, which is native to Sri Lanka, is more difficult to find and more expensive. Its scientific name is Cinnamomum zeylanicum, and it is also known as Cinnamomum verum -- "verum" means "true." You may have to go to a specialty gourmet store or upscale food market to find it.
Benefits of Cinnamon
Both types of cinnamon have been studied for their health benefits. In a 2012 study published in the "International Journal of Preventive Medicine," diabetic patients were given three grams of an unspecified cinnamon supplement, or a placebo, each week. At the end of eight weeks, the test subjects experienced improvements in blood sugar and triglycerides, and they lost weight compared with the placebo group. A 2012 review article published in "Diabetic Medicine" examined 16 studies of Ceylon cinnamon specifically. The researchers uncovered beneficial effects on diabetic complications, with no toxicity to the liver and kidneys. Toxicity might, however, be an issue for cassia.
This is another Cinnamon that has gained popularity recently. Originating in Vietnam, this cinnamon admittedly makes a good first impression in terms of sheer aroma and taste. It tends to be even more spicy and pungent but sweet at the same time. It's a little more expensive than Cassia Cinnamon but has the highest levels of Coumarin. Saigon cinnamon is derived from the bark of cassia trees, which are native to Southeast Asia. Saigon cinnamon, also known as Vietnamese cassia, is one of the sweetest and most pungent varieties of cinnamon. According to Pennington Biomedical Research Center, it's a member of the Cinnamomum cassia family -- the predominant cinnamon variety sold in the United States. Saigon cinnamon provides valuable health benefits common to all cinnamon varieties.
Spices, such as Saigon cinnamon, display insulin-enhancing properties. Of the two main classifications of cinnamon, Cinnamomum cassia has shown greater benefits for blood glucose levels and insulin levels than Cinnamomum Zeylanicum. An article published in "Diabetes Care" in December 2003 noted a study conducted on 30 men and 30 women with Type 2 diabetes. It found that after consuming cinnamon for 40 days, whether the dose was 1, 3, or 6 grams, the test subjects showed reduced blood sugar levels, triglycerides, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and total cholesterol. The study also suggested that including cinnamon in the daily diet might reduce diabetes and heart disease risk factors in people with Type 2 diabetes.
Anti-Inflammatory and Antimicrobial
Inflammation is one of your body's natural defense mechanisms against infection and injury. When uncontrolled, it could result in painful inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and cancer. According to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, in vitro studies -- those conducted in laboratory vessels or a controlled laboratory environment, but not on humans -- have demonstrated cinnamon's anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.
Possible Cancer Protection
According to the American Cancer Society, cancer remains the second most common cause of death in the United States, accounting for nearly one out of every four deaths. An article published in "BMC Cancer" in July 2010 noted a study that tested the anti-tumor activity of cinnamon extract on various tumor cells. The tests were performed in vitro and living mice. The results showed that the cinnamon extract suppressed cell tumor growth and caused tumor cell death.
Saigon cinnamon is generally safe when used in amounts commonly found in foods, according to MedlinePlus. Cassia varieties of cinnamon -- including Saigon cinnamon -- contain significant amounts of Coumarin, which is linked to potential liver damage. If you have liver disease, avoid dietary supplements containing cassia cinnamon, but using cinnamon for seasoning should be fine. If you have any concerns, however, talk with your doctor before consuming cinnamon. Additionally, because not enough is known about Saigon cinnamon use during pregnancy, talk with your doctor before using it if you're pregnant or breastfeeding.
Ceylon Cinnamon grows best in sandy soil. The tree grows to about 49 feet in its natural state but is cut earlier for commercial purposes. It has a thin bark. The leaves are shiny and leathery on top and dull on the underside. The flowers are white with an oval-shaped fruit that becomes bluish with white spots when ripe. The leaves, when crushed, are spicy and hot to taste, while peeling away the outer bark of the tree yields a very strong cinnamon smell.
The most significant advantage of Ceylon Cinnamon is ultra-low Coumarin levels. Coumarin in high doses causes liver failure, so Ceylon Cinnamon is the preferred choice for people who take cinnamon daily.
Ceylon cinnamon has a sweeter, more delicate flavor than cassia, making it preferable for flavoring desserts and lighter dishes. But the more important distinction may be the presence of a chemical called coumarin, a natural plant chemical that acts as a blood thinner. This chemical is present in much higher concentrations in cassia than in Ceylon cinnamon. It is contraindicated for anyone taking prescription blood thinners. Coumarin has also been shown to be toxic to the liver and kidneys, and it may also be carcinogenic, which can negate any health benefits of cinnamon.
Other Benefits of Ceylon Cinnamon
In addition to its potentially beneficial effect on glucose metabolism and body weight, Ceylon cinnamon also contains antioxidant compounds called proanthocyanidins. These are similar to the antioxidant compounds found in green tea and grapes. According to studies reviewed by "BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine" in 2013, Coumarin-free Ceylon cinnamon may also be beneficial to the liver with no adverse effects to other organ systems. Other benefits may be antimicrobial and anti-parasitic activity, digestive health, and blood pressure reduction.
Choose Ceylon Over Cassia
It is probably okay to use a small amount of cassia occasionally, but if you are a daily user, it pays to seek Ceylon, or "true" cinnamon. Even if you do choose the Ceylon variety, more is not necessarily better. Use it in moderation for culinary and medicinal purposes, and monitor any health conditions with your physician. Some bottles of powdered cinnamon may not specify which type it is. Usually, Ceylon will be labeled. If you have unlabeled whole cinnamon sticks (the plant bark), the rolled bark of Ceylon cinnamon will be thinner and multilayered compared to the thicker bark of cassia.