Cinnamon is one of the world’s oldest spices. It was used throughout the ancient world, with Egyptians using it as a perfuming agent during embalmment and when Emperor Nero’s second wife died, he burned as much of the spice as he could obtain, on her funeral pyre, to atone for his part in her death.
There are four main types of cinnamon which are used for commercial purposes; Ceylon; Cassia; Saigon; and Korintje cinnamon.
Here, I’m going to talk about the two main types which are consumed within Europe: Ceylon and Cassia and why you should be aware of the difference between them when consuming cinnamon.
It is important to realise that not all cinnamon is equal and that they can have different impacts on our health.
Cacao and oats breakfast drink, sweetened with Lucy Bee Cinnamon
Ceylon cinnamon is regarded and known as ‘True cinnamon’ and is the one that has been linked to having health benefits.
As well as ‘True cinnamon’, it is also known as ‘Mexican cinnamon’, with its scientific names including Cinnamomum Verum or Zeylanicum.
In our quest to offer natural and premium quality ingredients, you won't be surprised to know that Lucy Bee Cinnamon Powder is Ceylon cinnamon and is also organic and Fair Trade.
The other type of cinnamon which is frequently distributed by shops, is not ‘True cinnamon’ but Cassia cinnamon, which is also known as Chinese cinnamon. Its scientific name is Cinnamomum Aromaticum.
Ceylon and Cassia cinnamons may have certain features in common but they have one major difference, which is the amount of coumarin they contain. So, what is coumarin and why should we be aware of the coumarin content of different cinnamons?
Well, coumarin is a natural flavouring and fragrant compound found within plants, however, it is toxic to our liver cells (Hepatotoxic) and potentially also has carcinogenic properties (can increase risk of cancer) when eaten in excess (Lake, 1999. Uehara et al., 2008).
Studies have found that humans are more susceptible to the hepatotoxic effects of coumarin than animals used within studies (Abraham et al., 2010). It has been found that the amount of coumarin absorbed from cassia cinnamon is only slightly lower than that when coumarin was isolated and given to healthy individuals (Abraham et al., 2011).
This lead to the European Food Safety Authority setting a Tolerable Daily Intake of coumarin to 0.1 milligrams per Kg of bodyweight per day.
This is believed to be the set amount which will not increase your risk of its negative effects (Food Standards Agency, 2015), in other words you can safely eat this amount each day. So if an adult weighed 55Kg, they would be able to safely consume 5.5 milligrams of coumarin every day without any impact on their health. It is especially important for those who are sensitive to coumarin not to exceed this intake.
Cassia cinnamon is often easily available in stores because it comes at a cheaper price than Ceylon cinnamon yet, Cassia, has high levels of coumarin and can contain up to 1% of coumarin (Blahová and Svobodová, 2012).
Studies have found a wide range of differing amounts of coumarin within different Cassia bark samples, with some having low levels and others containing around 10,000 milligrams/Kg. They even found that bark collected from the same tree could have a varied amount of coumarin (Woehrlin et al., 2010).
Whereas the bark which is used for Ceylon cinnamon has very low levels/traces of coumarin, around 0.004% (Wang et al., 2013).
It's this difference in levels of coumarin which affects the aroma of the cinnamon - Ceylon cinnamon, with it's low levels of coumarin, naturally has a lighter aroma than Cassia.
As with everything, it's good to know what you're eating. It is recommended that if you frequently use large quantities of cinnamon then a better option is to use Ceylon cinnamon rather than Cassia, due to Ceylon’s much lower levels of coumarin.
An excessive intake over your tolerable daily intake (e.g. 60Kg adult’s tolerable daily intake is: 6 milligrams of coumarin per day) of coumarin may lead to damage to the liver cells, which has a negative impact on health. Although this damage appears to be reversible it is not recommended to risk the health implications.
It is also a good idea to be aware of cinnamon-based food products which may also use Cassia cinnamon, due to its cheaper pricing.
Fair Trade contributions being used for education in India
If using Ceylon, it is a great alternative to sugar to sweeten drinks. For example, our Lucy Bee Hot Chocolate with Cinnamon is a great alternative to hot chocolates which are sweetened with sugar, and is also low in coumarin. The recipe is here.
If you would like to read more about Lucy Bee Cinnamon Powder, our Fair Trade scheme with the communities in Kerala, India, and how to use the cinnamon powder in recipes click here.
Abraham, K. Pfister, M. Wöhrin, F. and Lampen, A. (2011). Relative bioavailability of coumarin from cinnamon and cinnamon-containing foods compared to isolated coumarin: a four-way crossover study in human volunteers. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 55(4), pp. 644-653. Available here.
Abraham, K. Wöhrlin, F. Lindtner, O. Heinemeyer, G. and Lampen, A. (2010). Toxicology and risk assessment of coumarin: focus on human data. Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, 54(2), pp. 228-239. Available here.
Blahová, J. and Svobodová, Z. (2012). Assessment of coumarin levels in ground cinnamon available in the Czech retail market. The Scientific World Journal, pp.1-4. Available here.
Food Standards Agency. (2015). Survey on the consumption of cinnamon-containing foods and drinks. Available here.
Lake, B. (1999). Coumarin metabolism, toxicity and carcinogenicity: relevance for human risk assessment. Food and Chemical Toxicity, 37(4), pp. 423-453. Available here.
Uehara, T. Kiyosawa, N. Shimizu, T. Omura, K. Hirode, M. Imazawa, T. Mizukawa, Y. Ono, A. Miyagishima, T. Nagao, T. and Urushidani, T. (2008). Species-specific differences in coumarin-induced hepatotoxicity as an example toxicogenomics-based approach to assessing risk of toxicity to humans. Human & Experimental Toxicology, 27(1), pp. 23-25. Available here.
Wang, Y. Avula, B. Nanayakkara, D. Zhao, J. and Khan, IA. (2013). Cassia cinnamon as a source of coumarin in cinnamon-flavoured food and food supplements in the United States. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 61(18), pp. 4470-4476. Available here.
Woehrlin, F. Fry, H. Abraham, K. and Preiss-Weigert, A. (2010). Quantification of flavouring constituents in cinnamon: high variation of coumarin in cassia bark from the German retail market and in authentic samples from Indonesia. Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry, 58(19), pp. 10568-10575. Available here.
About Lucy Bee Limited
Lucy Bee is concerned with Fair Trade, ethical and sustainable living, recycling and eating close to nature with additive free products for health.
Members of the Lucy Bee team are not medically trained and can only offer their best advice. Any information provided by us is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent disease.
Please note you should always refer your health queries to a qualified medical practitioner.
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Daisy is a Registered Associate Nutritionist with a Master's Degree in Public Health Nutrition, which is Association for Nutrition (AFN) accredited. She, also, has a BSc degree in Psychology and Cognitive Neuroscience; and has completed an AFN accredited Diet Specialist Nutrition course and is currently studying for a PgDip in Eating Disorders and Clinical Nutrition.
Daisy has worked for an NHS funded project, the Diabetes Prevention Programme; and shadowed a nutritionist in Harley Street.
Daisy is Lucy's sister and is the Lucy Bee voice on all aspects of nutrition and its effect on the body.