Most believe that the mass-market culinary cinnamon on grocery store shelves and in spice racks is the only type of cinnamon available. Known as “Cassia,” it has a similar flavor profile to what’s actually regarded as “true” cinnamon, a.k.a. Ceylon Cinnamon. But when comparing the two varieties and considering the medicinal value of each, there are significant differences.
The History of Ceylon Cinnamon
Ceylon, or “true cinnamon,” was once considered so valuable — a spice of such high culinary and medicinal quality — that wars were fought over it. Hailing from the island of Ceylon, present-day Sri Lanka, Ceylon’s medicinal uses can be traced to a time before the Christian Era, to Chinese records that date back to 2800 B.C. Trade routes drew it up and out of Sri Lanka, where it made its way across Asia to the Middle East and into Africa.
In the 15th century, the Arabs introduced Ceylon to Europe for a steep price and monopolized the trade. The spice’s value and exoticism soon transformed its appeal from medicinal and culinary use to political and economic control and power.
Eventually, Ceylon cinnamon became more valuable than gold and could only be possessed by those of the noble classes. It wasn’t long before the spice began attracting the Portuguese, British, and Dutch to the tiny island of its origin, which came to be known as “Cinnamon Country,” as cinnamon was the country’s main source of revenue. As time marched on, the Portuguese wrested the monopoly from the Arabs and enslaved the islanders to greatly expand Ceylon’s yield and profit. The Dutch swooped in next, strategically allied themselves with one of Sri Lanka’s kingdoms, and fought off the Portuguese. The Dutch monopoly was maintained until the British took overthrew it in 1796, and colonized the island soon after. But by then, Ceylon’s popularity had seen a significant decline, inspiring the British to begin cultivating trade crops such as coffee and tea.
Ceylon vs. Cassia
Although both Ceylon and Cassia have health benefits, Ceylon is considered superior. Notably, Ceylon Cinnamon is absolutely safe when used in large amounts, for example as a dietary supplement. High levels of a compound known as coumarin make Cassia less desirable. For most, using Cassia as a culinary spice is perfectly safe, but the superfood benefits of cinnamon come from the Ceylon variety. “True” (Ceylon) cinnamon has been found to be virtually coumarin free.
Ceylon Cinnamon as a Superfood
There are myriad reasons to use true cinnamon for treating ailments and improving health. Perhaps the most impressive of them all is the sheer number of antioxidants present in Ceylon: a whopping 41. This makes cinnamon among the most antioxidant-rich foods in the world. Antioxidants are crucial to defending the body against free radicals, harmful waste molecules produced by the cells as they filter out environmental, chemical, and other toxins.
Ceylon has also been lauded for its anti-inflammatory, anti-diabetic, antimicrobial, anticancer, lipid-decreasing, and cardiovascular-disease-lowering constituents. According to a 2014 study by researchers Pasupuleti Visweswara Rao and Siew Hua Gan, “Cinnamon has also been reported to have activities against neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases.” Rao and Guan go on to list a wide range of medicinal uses for the plant, including treating toothaches, improving colon health, fighting bad breath, increasing blood circulation in the uterus, and advancing tissue regeneration, as well as treating Alzheimers and improving cognitive performance.
The Importance of Fair Trade Organic Cinnamon
Factored into any Ceylon purchasing decision should be the importance of opting for a product that’s certified fair trade and organic. The Fair Trade Movement originated in the 1950s when European and Americans traveled abroad and took note of how local artisans and farmers sold their goods for a low cost to merchants who would sell them back in Europe and the US for a much higher price.
The Fair Trade Movement pushed to establish a set of rules that would protect the locals from exploitation. It wasn’t until the 1990s, however, that FairTrade USA founder Paul Rice created his foundation to enforce the regulations with a Fair Trade Certification. Organic India was the first company to offer organic, fair trade-certified supplements.
Concerned buyers don’t have to stop at fair trade. When it comes to spices, there’s more to the organic designation than just being free of pesticides. By law, any spice imported to the US must be subjected to one of three sterilization methods: fumigation with ethylene oxide, irradiation, or steaming (where steam from scalding water destroys bacteria). Steaming is the only permitted sterilization process for certified organic products.
Disclaimer: This content is not intended to provide diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Content provided on this site for informational purposes only.