Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon: what to choose?

Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon: what to choose?

Cinnamon is a highly popular spice used for various purposes. Primarily, it is a spice incorporated into culinary preparations worldwide. However, it is also utilized in traditional medicine. Most cinnamon and its derivative products found in commerce originate from Madagascar, China, and Indonesia. Cinnamon goes by various names: spicy wood, sweet wood, fragrant bark, among others. Two main varieties of cinnamon are distinguished, namely Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon. The latter is more prevalent in the market, but it is not as popular as Ceylon cinnamon.

What is Cinnamon?

Cinnamon belongs to the Lauraceae family, much like laurel. It is the bark of a tree called the cinnamon tree. Upon drying, the bark curls up to form a stick. Cinnamon sticks are the most popular and widely used product of this spice. However, the cinnamon tree can also yield two other spices, with flavors and benefits akin to the bark: cinnamon berries and cinnamon leaves. The use of cinnamon dates back to antiquity, employed for its culinary and medicinal properties. In ancient Egypt, cinnamon was mixed with other spices for mummification. In China, cinnamon’s history dates back 2,500 years BC, where it was primarily valued for its health benefits. Cinnamon later arrived in Europe via the Silk Road. During that time, cinnamon remained a rare and expensive spice, reserved for the aristocracy and individuals close to the Court.

What are the Different Types of Cinnamon?

Two main varieties of cinnamon are distinguished: Cinnamomum Zeylanicum (Ceylon cinnamon) and Cinnamomum Cassia (cassia cinnamon). Both are available in the market and exhibit some differences favoring Ceylon cinnamon. Indeed, Ceylon cinnamon possesses properties that are more appealing to consumers compared to cassia cinnamon. It is for this reason that Ceylon cinnamon is referred to as true cinnamon.

What is Ceylon Cinnamon?

Ceylon cinnamon, or Cinnamomum Verum, is the most renowned variety. However, it is much more expensive than cassia cinnamon since it is less abundant in the market. This small evergreen tree grows naturally in tropical regions. The bark is thick, irregular, and highly aromatic. Ceylon cinnamon originates from India and Sri Lanka. It is also found in Madagascar and Latin America, particularly in Brazil. Ceylon cinnamon consists of starch, proanthocyanidolic oligomers, and essential oils: cinnamaldehyde (65 to 80%) and eugenol (10%).

What is Cassia Cinnamon?

Cassia cinnamon, or Cinnamomum Cassia, is another variety of cinnamon that originates from Burma, China, or Indonesia. It is also known as Indonesian Cinnamon or Chinese Cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon has long been used in Chinese medicine. Cassia cinnamon also contains proanthocyanidolic oligomers and essential oils: cinnamaldehyde (96.7%), eugenol (0.5%), eugenyl acetate (2.2%). Unlike Ceylon cinnamon, it contains a large amount of coumarin.

What are the Differences Between Ceylon Cinnamon and Cassia Cinnamon?

Obtained from the bark of the cinnamon tree, both Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon have a fairly similar flavor and the same medicinal virtues. However, Ceylon cinnamon is much more aromatic in taste. The main difference between these two cinnamons is the concentration of coumarin. Coumarin is a natural substance used in perfumery and cosmetics. Cassia cinnamon bark is very rich in coumarin, while this substance is absent in Ceylon cinnamon bark. While coumarin finds its use in the cosmetic and perfumery industry, it proves to be potentially toxic to the body. Indeed, coumarin possesses hepatotoxic properties which, in high doses, could lead to liver cancer. Consequently, the daily consumption of cassia cinnamon is limited, which is not the case for Ceylon cinnamon.

How to Differentiate Between the Two Cinnamons?

To differentiate between Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon, three parameters should be considered: thickness, color, and flavor. Ceylon cinnamon consists of a layering of thin sheets, approximately 1 mm thick. With an orange-ochre color, this bark is firm and irregular but still crumbly. Initially, Ceylon cinnamon bark is not very aromatic to the nose. It develops its essential sweet and aromatic flavor once in the mouth. As for cassia cinnamon, the bark is thicker, formed of a single layer about 3 mm thick. It is also recognizable by its orange to brownish color. It has the same flavor as Ceylon cinnamon with a slightly bitter note in the mouth. Both are perfect for any recipe and daily consumption, provided there are no liver issues.

What is the Usefulness of Cinnamon in Cuisine?

Cinnamon is a spice used like other spices commonly used in cooking. Previously, the use of cinnamon in cooking varied from one region to another according to culture. In Oriental and Maghreb cuisine, cinnamon is used to flavor savory dishes and make spice blends. Cinnamon enhances the taste of dishes made with red meats, poultry, and vegetables. In the West, cinnamon is preferred in desserts and sweet dishes: cakes, pies, cookies, creams, yogurt, compotes, fruit salads, dried fruits, jams, etc. The use of cinnamon in sweet dishes is often associated with celebrations like Christmas. By synthesizing these different culinary cultures and habits, cinnamon can be used in any recipe: savory, sweet, cooked, or raw. And around the world, cinnamon is also used to flavor infusions and hot beverages: teas, hot chocolate, mulled wine, etc.

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