Cinnamon is one of the most popular and commonly used spices in the world. There are two main types of cinnamon powder: Ceylon and Cassia. While they may look and taste similar, there are some important differences between Ceylon cinnamon powder and Cassia cinnamon powder that you should be aware of.
Cinnamon comes from the inner bark of Cinnamomum trees. This bark is dried and ground into a fine powder, which is the familiar spice that we use in baking, cooking, and beverages.
However, there are hundreds of species of Cinnamomum trees, and the bark from different species produces cinnamon powders with varying flavors, aromas, and health properties. The two most common varieties are Ceylon cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon.
Ceylon cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka and is sometimes called "true cinnamon." It has a sweet, delicate flavor with notes of citrus and clove. Cassia cinnamon originates from China and is darker, thicker, and more pungent than Ceylon cinnamon. It has a stronger, spicier flavor.
While both Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon powders can provide health benefits, Ceylon cinnamon is considered superior for regular consumption. This is because Cassia cinnamon contains high levels of a compound called coumarin, which can potentially cause liver damage when consumed regularly in large amounts.
Below we'll take a look at Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon powders, their similarities and differences, and help you determine which type of cinnamon powder is best for you.
What is Cinnamon Powder?
Cinnamon powder is made by grinding sticks or quills of inner cinnamon bark into a fine powder. This allows for easy incorporation into drinks, baked goods, breakfast foods, desserts, and more.
The powder concentrates the natural oils and compounds that give cinnamon its distinctive spicy-sweet flavor and aroma. The main component is cinnamaldehyde, an essential oil that gives cinnamon its fragrance and many of its health-promoting properties.
Both Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon sticks can be ground into powder, but they have slightly different chemical compositions that impact their flavor and health effects.
Key Differences Between Ceylon and Cassia Cinnamon Powders
While Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon powders may look very similar, there are some key differences to be aware of:
- Appearance: Ceylon is tan-brown in color, while Cassia has a darker reddish-brown hue.
- Texture: Ceylon is very fine and smooth, while Cassia is more gritty.
- Taste: Ceylon has a delicate, sweet flavor, while Cassia is spicier and more pungent.
- Aroma: Ceylon has a mild, citrusy aroma, while Cassia is stronger and hotter.
- Origin: Ceylon cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka, while Cassia originates in China.
- Cinnamaldehyde content: Ceylon contains 50-63% cinnamaldehyde, while Cassia contains over 95%.
- Coumarin content: Ceylon has only 0.004% coumarin, while Cassia has 5-10% coumarin.
The most significant difference is the coumarin content. Coumarin is a natural compound that can cause liver damage in high amounts. This makes Ceylon cinnamon powder the safer choice for regular consumption.
Health Benefits of Ceylon and Cassia Cinnamon Powders
Both Ceylon and Cassia cinnamon powders provide some similar health benefits:
- Blood sugar control: Multiple studies show cinnamon can reduce fasting blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity. This makes it beneficial for controlling diabetes.
- Heart health: The antioxidants in cinnamon may reduce high blood pressure, lower cholesterol, and protect against heart disease.
- Anti-inflammatory: The cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon demonstrates anti-inflammatory properties which can help relieve arthritis and joint pain.
- Antimicrobial properties: Research indicates cinnamon oils can inhibit bacterial and fungal infections, boosting immunity.
- Neuroprotective effects: Compounds in cinnamon may inhibit tau formation in the brain, which could potentially help prevent Alzheimer's disease.
While most studies have focused specifically on Cassia cinnamon, experts believe Ceylon provides similar benefits. However, Ceylon may be better for long-term use due to its low coumarin levels.
Dangers of Coumarin in Cassia Cinnamon
The coumarin content of Cassia cinnamon creates concerns over liver toxicity.
Coumarin is only mildly toxic at low doses. However regular intake of large amounts can be dangerous. The Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) limit for coumarin is 0.1 mg per 1 lb (0.5 mg per 1 kg) of body weight.
Consuming more than this limit over an extended period can potentially lead to:
- Liver damage and dysfunction
- Increased cancer risk
- Interactions with blood thinners like warfarin
- Allergic reactions in sensitive individuals
Studies show just 1-2 teaspoons of Cassia cinnamon powder could surpass the TDI for a 150 lb (70 kg) adult. This makes Ceylon cinnamon powder the safer choice for everyday use and supplementation.
Is Cassia Cinnamon Bad for You?
Cassia cinnamon is not inherently bad or toxic in small to moderate quantities. Many of the health benefits of cinnamon come from compounds found in Cassia.
The risks mainly arise when ingesting more than 0.5-1 gram per day regularly over time. This may be easy to exceed if taking cinnamon supplements or eating a lot of cinnamon-heavy foods.
Those concerned about their coumarin exposure can take a few precautions:
- Limit Cassia cinnamon intake to less than 0.5 teaspoons (1 gram) per day
- Switch to Ceylon cinnamon for supplementation or liberal sprinkling
- Consume a diet rich in vitamin K to offset coumarin effects
- Avoid Cassia if you have liver disorders or take blood thinners
Overall, Cassia cinnamon can be safely enjoyed in moderation by most healthy adults. But Ceylon is the better option for high doses or sensitive individuals.
How to Choose the Best Cinnamon Powder
When browsing the spice aisle, there are a few tips for picking the best quality cinnamon powder:
- Look for Ceylon: Ceylon cinnamon is always labeled as such since it commands a higher price. Cassia is typically not specified.
- Check the color: Ceylon powder has a lighter tan-brown hue, while Cassia is a darker reddish-brown.
- Give it a sniff: Ceylon has a mild, sweet aroma compared to Cassia's spicier punch.
- Taste a pinch: Ceylon will have a delicate flavor, while Cassia is more pungent.
- Buy whole sticks: Grinding fresh sticks at home offers the purest flavor and aroma. Opt for thin, soft Ceylon sticks.
- Purchase organic: This ensures your cinnamon is free of pesticides and chemicals.
- Store in an airtight container: Keep cinnamon powder away from light and heat to preserve its flavor and health benefits.
Ceylon Cinnamon Powder vs. Cassia: Which Should You Choose?
So which is better, Ceylon or Cassia cinnamon powder? Here are some key points to help you decide:
- For occasional use: Both Ceylon and Cassia are fine for sprinkling in moderation. Choose based on taste preference and budget.
- For health: If using cinnamon specifically for its health benefits, Ceylon is the best option. Its low coumarin makes it safer for regular intake.
- For baking: Ceylon's milder flavor is ideal for sweet baked goods. Cassia's spicy kick pairs better with savory dishes.
- For supplements: Supplements should always specify Ceylon cinnamon to avoid high coumarin exposure.
- For liver conditions: Those with liver disorders should strictly avoid Cassia and only use Ceylon.
- When in doubt: Pick Ceylon cinnamon to be on the safe side. But both can be enjoyed in moderation.
The bottom line is that Ceylon cinnamon powder is the best choice for frequent or high-dose consumption. But Cassia can still be incorporated in moderation by most healthy people. Listen to your individual needs and tastes to decide which is right for you.
Is Cassia cinnamon toxic?
Cassia cinnamon is not inherently toxic, but it contains a compound called coumarin that can be toxic in very high doses. Consuming more than 0.5-1 grams per day regularly could potentially lead to liver damage over time.
How much cinnamon is safe per day?
Up to 1 gram (approx. 1/2 teaspoon) of Cassia cinnamon or up to 5 grams (1 teaspoon) of Ceylon cinnamon per day is considered safe for most healthy adults. Higher doses may cause side effects. Those with liver conditions should limit intake or avoid Cassia completely.
Can cinnamon lower A1C levels?
Research shows cinnamon supplementation may help lower A1C levels in people with type 2 diabetes by improving insulin sensitivity. Look for supplements using Ceylon cinnamon to avoid excess coumarin exposure.
Is cinnamon good for high blood pressure?
Some studies suggest Cassia cinnamon may help lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure in people with hypertension. However, more research is needed to confirm the effects. Ceylon cinnamon likely provides similar benefits with less risk.
Does cinnamon break a fast?
Pure powdered cinnamon does not break a fast, as it has negligible calories and carbs. Be sure to avoid cinnamon-flavored products with added sugar, which can break your fast. Limit Cassia intake during extended fasts due to potential liver effects.
Ceylon and Cassia offer their own distinct flavors, aromas, and health benefits. But Ceylon cinnamon is considered the best variety for frequent use and supplementation thanks to its ultra-low coumarin content.
Cassia cinnamon should be limited to less than 0.5-1 grams per day, especially for those with liver disorders or on blood thinners. For occasional sprinkling, both Ceylon and Cassia powders can be enjoyed in moderation.
Be proactive about choosing Ceylon cinnamon anytime you plan to consume larger doses, such as with smoothies, oatmeal, or tea. This ensures you can reap all the health benefits of cinnamon powder safely and deliciously.