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Is Your Cinnamon Real?

Fake Cinnamon vs. Real Cinnamon

Ah, cinnamon! I sprinkle it into my morning coffee, whip it into delicious homemade ice cream, and even stir it into savory Indian dishes at dinner time.

A lot of folks have made a hubbub about whether or not your cinnamon is real. Their claim is that Ceylon cinnamon is the only true cinnamon, and that Cassia (or Saigon) cinnamon is fake.

They are missing the point. The truth is, both belong the same family of plants (and even the same genus — cinnamomum). And both are similar although the taste is somewhat different.

That said, I do believe there’s such a thing as “fake” cinnamon, and it can impact not only your measure of culinary delight, but also your health.

The differences between Ceylon & Cassia cinnamon

Before I go into describing what I call “fake” cinnamon, let’s bust a myth wide open.

There are no dramatic nutritional differences between the two cinnamons.

Cassia does contain more coumarin, which is a naturally-occurring anti-coagulant (i.e. blood thinner). This has caused some to vilify Cassia because large amounts of coumarin have been shown to cause liver damage in several studies.

Nevertheless, you’d have to be taking large amounts of cinnamon (likely for therapeutic reasons) to even notice the difference between the coagulant cinnamon (Ceylon) and the anti-coagulant cinnamon (Cassia) in a normal, healthy individual.

So, for those of us who are just using cinnamon as a spice, this nutritional difference is moot.

So what makes a cinnamon fake?

It’s all about whether it’s fresh and how it’s processed!

You see, most powdered cinnamon that you buy at the store is manufactured with an industrial grinding process, which tends to dilute the value of nutrients contained in the plant. Sometimes, they even add flour to stop it from caking.

Cinnamon of course is the wood, or bark of the plant, which is ground up in order to consume, and its nutrients are found in its intrinsic oils.

Industrial grinding processes lose many of the oils which contain its nutrients.

Likewise, cinnamon that is stored for long periods of time prior to distribution can also be degraded and lose nutritional value.

It just goes stale, like any other spice, and loses its bite.

Moreover, much of the cinnamon sold in grocery stores and supermarkets is, like much that you can find among mass-marketed brand items, a mystery food.

The bark comes from an unknown source. Who knows how old it is? There is no information about processing and aging factors.

So, if you want the real deal, without any oxidized oils and bitter after taste, you’ve got to grind your cinnamon fresh.

What’s this about taste?

Have you ever noticed the bitter aftertaste in most store bought cinnamon?

If you use real, freshly ground cinnamon, you’ll never experience it again.

Cinnamon that undergoes industrial processing usually has a somewhat bittersweet taste, and the fullness of flavors real cinnamon offers is absent.

Freshly ground cinnamon — ground by our own hand in your own kitchen — retains all its essential oils and nutrients as well as its depth of flavor, which is why many people (myself included!) consider it to be a sweetener in its own right.  If you buy it fresh, and grate it yourself, you won’t believe the difference in taste!

Fresh cinnamon is just … better.

The health benefits of cinnamon have been known for a while, which is what makes it a great substitute for other, less healthy sweeteners as well as a real food itself.

Fresh cinnamon has greater nutritional value than store-bought, industrially-processed, old cinnamon.

Cinnamon contains calcium, iron and the mineral manganese, which is also an essential nutrient and used for medicinal purposes.

It’s also an antioxidant, which means that it contains the molecular particles that can inhibit free radicals. Free radicals may contribute to many diseases, including cardiac disease, macular degeneration, cancer, and others.

Due to the nutritional ingredients that are found in real cinnamon, some of its documented health benefits include:

  • Anti-clotting actions: According to the journal, Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine (eCAM), studies show that cinnamon is a coagulant.
  • Has been shown to help control blood sugar levels: According to a study in the American Diabetes Association journal, Diabetes Care, cinnamon is effective in improving glucose and lipids of people with Type 2 diabetes. The study concludes that the “intake of 1, 3, or 6 g of cinnamon per day reduces serum glucose, triglyceride, LDL cholesterol, and total cholesterol in people with type 2 diabetes and suggest that the inclusion of cinnamon in the diet of people with type 2 diabetes will reduce risk factors associated with diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.”
  • May inhibit the formation of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • Impairs cancer cells and slows the growth of tumors.
  • Works as an antibiotic.

So, how do you get your hands on fresh cinnamon?

You have to buy from a trusted source — a source that discloses harvest dates as well as type of cinnamon (and where it comes from!).

I’ve found that buying cinnamon sticks from the store can be a risky business.

That’s because the sticks come with no harvest dates, so I don’t know how old they are.

Half the time, I wind up with sticks that are so stale they just crumble and splinter apart when I try to grate them.

So, I’ve taken to sourcing my cinnamon from one of my sponsors, Cinnamon Hill. They sell the finest fresh Ceylon sticks from Sri Lanka and Saigon sticks from Vietnam, so you get a choice of the two best types in the world. That’s “real cinnamon” and it’s the only place you can buy it.

Not only is the harvest date marked on each box, but each individual cinnamon stick is wrapped separately preserve it’s freshness and flavor. They’ve just taken delivery of the Summer harvest in Vietnam so their stock is really fresh.

Plus, I snagged a really beautiful British-made wood handled cinnamon grater from them. They’ve designed it specially for fresh cinnamon. (A microplane doesn’t work with fresh cinnamon).

I now keep the cinnamon and grater on my table. Seeing it and holding it always inspires me to grate fresh cinnamon onto everything: fruit, oatmeal, ice cream, hot chocolate, coffee, smoothies, you name it!

Fake Cinnamon vs. Real Cinnamon

Shhh. I’m going to tell you one of my secrets to happiness.

It’s super simple. You can start today.

I cultivate Beauty.

One of my heroes, farmer and agrarian poet Wendell Berry, once wrote, “If a thing is ugly, I think we need to ask questions about it. How did it get that way? What else is wrong?”

This particularly hits home when I think about our food system, which is so bent on efficiency, economies of scale, and and utility that it has become an ugly mar on our landscape. (Seriously, what’s uglier than a factory farm????)

Truly beautiful food comes from a beautiful food system, and it’s downright redemptive.

One of my other heroes, Russian Orthodox author Fyodor Dostoevsky claimed, “Beauty will save the world.”

I believe that.

It’s why I put on pleasing music and light incense before doing the dishes. I take a chore that almost always despairs me — cleaning dirty, smelly dishes — and redeem it by transforming my experience of it into something beautiful.

It’s also why I don’t have cooking utensils made of plastic or other synthetic materials.

I want to hold real wood when I cook.

This cinnamon grater?

BEAUTIFUL.

The folks at Cinnamon Hill are genuine Food Renegades and take pride in producing real food. They’ve also created an authentically beautiful way to experience it.

Want to know more about real cinnamon, how it’s harvested, and how it can benefit your health?

(You should click here for the full scoop from Cinnamon Hill.)

 

And don’t forget.

When you’re ready to be wowed by experiencing the difference of real, fresh cinnamon, you can click here to buy a package of fresh cinnamon sticks & grater.

Fake Cinnamon vs. Real Cinnamon

(standard disclosures apply)

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I am a passionate advocate for REAL FOOD -- food that's sustainable, organic, local, and traditionally-prepared according to the wisdom of our ancestors. I'm also an author and a nutrition educator. I enjoy playing in the rain, a good bottle of Caol Ila scotch, curling up with a page-turning book, sunbathing on my hammock, and watching my three children explore their world.

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STANDARD FTC DISCLOSURE: In order for me to support my blogging activities, I may receive monetary compensation or other types of remuneration for my endorsement, recommendation, testimonial and/or link to any products or services from this blog. Please note that I only ever endorse products that are in alignment with Food Renegade's ideals and that I believe would be of value to my readers. You may read my full disclosure statements here.







43 Responses to Is Your Cinnamon Real?
  1. Jeanie
    July 10, 2014 | 6:02 pm

    I like your idea of keeping everything beautiful and it seems that cinnamon and this grater are a good place to start!

    • Kristen Michaelis
      July 10, 2014 | 6:22 pm

      Thanks!

      For this reason, I try to make sure that even the most utilitarian of my possessions are beautiful.

  2. Kelly
    July 11, 2014 | 12:36 pm

    (The link didn’t take me to the combo pack.)

    Which kind do you prefer of the two Cinnamon Hill offers? This looks wonderful and I gotta try it!

    • Kristen Michaelis
      July 11, 2014 | 12:59 pm

      I started with the Original Cinnamon Lovers Starter Pack. It comes with one box of each kind of cinnamon and the grater and ceramic holder.

  3. Kelly Skinner via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 12:51 pm

    Is there no other grater I can use? This one looks wonderful but is really expensive.

  4. Food Renegade via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 1:01 pm

    You can use a coffee/spice grinder, but a normal microplane doesn’t work.

  5. Josee Gagnon via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 1:02 pm

    Abu Jacob

  6. Kelly Skinner via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 1:20 pm

    Ok thanks!

  7. Amanda Houseal via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 1:39 pm

    I use a mortar and pestle to grind my cinnamon…

  8. Single Man's Kitchen via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 1:44 pm

    But you got two important aspects wrong. The cassia bark does not have the same health benefits as Cinnamomum verum and the cassia bark from Vietnam is sprayed with insecticides and fungicides.

  9. Single Man's Kitchen via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 1:44 pm

    It really helps if you go there and see the manufacturing processes.

  10. Food Renegade via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 2:55 pm

    Single Man’s Kitchen The cinnamon that Cinnamon Hill sources from Vietnam isn’t grown with pesticides (or even fertilizers). Also, as I pointed out in my post, the nutritional differences between the two are moot if you’re only ingesting cinnamon as a spice. They only become noticeable if you’re taking cinnamon therapeutically in really large quantities. (By large, I’m speaking of studies that were done where participants ingested something along the lines of 15 tsp per day.) This frees those of us just using it in cooking to appreciate the subtle differences of flavor between the two and use the versions that are most complimentary to what we’re eating.

  11. Jenny Smith via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 3:21 pm

    You forgot one glaring downside of cassia cinnamon, the aspect of coumarin which you completely omitted from this article. Coumarin is toxic to the liver. It actually caused my son to become jaundice with just a few sprinkles of the cassia cinnamon, an amount that should have been negligible. It would change his liver enzyme levels and was causing his liver not to function properly. To me, cassia cinnamon, with 1200% more coumarin than Ceylon cinnamon will always be a “fake” cinnamon that has the ability to jeopardize health. Had there not been an article by one of the other natural/holistic pages I follow pointing out that coumarin in cassia cinnamon can have negative implications to the liver my son may have had irreversible liver damage.
    Here is a link to one article I read, although it is not the initial one that made me look deeper into the coumarin aspect of cassia cinnamon.
    http://www.benefits-of-honey.com/ceylon-cinnamon.html

  12. Food Renegade via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 4:33 pm

    Jenny Smith Did you read the article? I did discuss the coumarin content of cassia, and concluded that it’s a non issue for healthy individuals who are not trying to take cinnamon in therapeutic doses.

  13. Kelly Skinner via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 4:35 pm

    Of the two Cinnamon Hill offers, which do you prefer? What’s the difference in taste?

  14. Jenny Smith via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 5:04 pm

    I did read it, twice actually and completely missed it. I went back and found it, but you completely downplay the dangers of coumarin, which can effect people even in “non-therapeutic” small doses that are typically found in food. My son was/is healthy. A non-therapeutic dose, literally a couple dashes was all it took of the coumarin to cause his physical color, his eye color, and his liver enzymes to become erratic and his doctor was seriously concerned that he potentially had a dangerous liver disease. He had previous routine bloodwork and his liver enzymes had never been off until after I started adding cinnamon to his smoothies for its health benefits and for taste when we switched over to paleo, at the time I had no clue there were 2 types of cinnamon. So to say it is a “non-issue” in regular doses typically found in food or cooking to otherwise healthy individuals is dangerous and can give people a false sense of security and not take into account it could be affecting their health negatively. Even the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health do not classify it as “safe” only “likely safe”. They also suggest avoiding it during pregnancy, breast feeding, surgery, people with known liver damage, and diabetes because it can be “likely unsafe”.

    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/1002.html

    • Heath
      July 25, 2014 | 7:32 am

      Jenny Smith: Thank you for posting. I was unaware of this possibility. I can remember when celiacs were told they were rare cases. So, I listen to the proverbial canaries as I don’t care to look at my food in “dosages”.

  15. Food Renegade via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 6:14 pm

    Jenny Smith I think that based on your son’s reaction, he’s one of the rare kinds of people who, according to the studies done, is sensitive to coumarin. The rest of us aren’t. Our livers respond differently to it than your son’s.

    For the rest of us, they’ve done research comparing just how much cassia cinnamon we’d have to ingest to surpass the tolerable daily intake level. From Cinnamon Hills’ FAQ, we get this summary: “The UK Food Standards Agency, in a study published on 26 January 2011, did some research to compare actual coumarin intake levels to the Tolerable Daily Intake. They surveyed three groups: adults, children and South Asians (because of their more spicy diet – coumarin is also found in other curry spices such as garam masala as well as cinnamon). They concluded that, on average, adults had an average dietary exposure of 0.0018 mg per kg of body weight per day (ie less than two hundredths of the TDI), children 0.0015 (less still) and South Asians 0.022 (just over one fifth of the TDI). Even in the most extreme cases, at the 97th percentile of the South Asians group (just imagine how spicy that diet must be!) exposure was 0.076 mg per kg of body weight per day ie still well within the TDI.”

  16. Mari Morgan via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 8:17 pm

    I like Penzeys “house blend” cinnamon for everyday use because it has a nice balance of flavors, and I trust Penzeys’ products. It has never had a bitter aftertaste even after a year on the shelf and seems to go stale _very_ slowly compared to other cinnamons I’ve used. Sadly, I can’t use very much cinnamon because both Ceylon and cassia cinnamons slow the digestive system (that’s how it can help lessen blood sugar spikes, by delaying the exit of food from the stomach) and I already have gastroparesis. Which is a bummer because cinnamon is one of my favorite flavors, but it doesn’t take much to have a noticeable effect on my gastric motility (while ginger can increase gastric emptying and thus counteract the cinnamon, it’s one of the few things that gives me vicious heartburn). :( http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeyspenzeyscinnamon.html?id=GNYYTtCJ

  17. Victoria Cash Acree via Facebook
    July 11, 2014 | 11:51 pm

    Very informative article written with intelligence and wit. I esp like the incense and music idea

  18. gisela
    July 12, 2014 | 9:21 am

    I got very, very sick last year and had to go to a walk in clinic. They told me I had e-coli!! And gave me a prescription for a medication. It did help me but not completely (took away the horrendous cramps) I looked up natural ways of curing e-coli and CINNAMON was the #1 killer of e-coli!. I went to a health shop and bought pure cinnmamon extract and immediately began to get well!

  19. Teresa G
    July 12, 2014 | 9:34 am

    I’m okay with stale, old store cinnamon, since I tend to have an allergic reaction to the “fresher” kind. I guess I can handle the old stuff ;)

  20. LJ
    July 12, 2014 | 10:41 am

    What a beautiful post! I clicked just to see if you mentioned where to find that gorgeous cinnamon grater. You rarely disappoint! Thank you for starting my day off on the path to seeking the beauty in all things.

  21. Karen
    July 12, 2014 | 11:44 am

    Cinnamon is also antiviral, antibacterial, antispasmotic, and antifungal. That said, this would be on my dream list. That’s a lot of money for most of us.

    • Kristen Michaelis
      July 14, 2014 | 9:40 pm

      It is. Maybe it could go on a wish list for a special-occasion present?

  22. Aliyanna
    July 12, 2014 | 12:28 pm

    This sounds like something lovely to do. And cinnamon is wonderful in a million different ways…in foods, as a tea…just oodles.. But at the prices these folks want for their product, I am afraid it takes it out of the reach for many of us. I, personally, buy cinnamon by the pound. And use it up quickly..it is one of the most used spices in my kitchen.

  23. Maja
    July 12, 2014 | 1:52 pm

    The dangers of coumarin is real, and occurs in some indoviduals (who dont know that they are vounerable), especially if used by small children on porridge etc. Current research suggest that some countries population are in danger of eating too much (some age groups) and thats why EU has restricted The use in food. So it is false security, to say it just isnt that dangerous.. Because sensitive individuals dont know they are sensitive. Especially tea gives teens a high dose of coumarin..

    • Heath
      July 25, 2014 | 7:38 am

      Maja, thank you. Very key points, indeed.

  24. bmommyx2
    July 12, 2014 | 5:40 pm

    great info, too bad I’m allergic to cinnamon

  25. The Growing Home via Facebook
    July 12, 2014 | 9:17 pm

    great tool idea, love it! India or indian store, but I get the bark not what’s shown.

  26. Kim
    July 13, 2014 | 12:22 am

    Great article. I use Ceylon cinnamon already ground that my local health food store ordered in request and love it. If I understand correctly, there’s a distinct difference in the thickness of Ceylon sticks which is a thinner darker bark than Saigon. I also read some time ago that this thickness had to do with what part of the tree the bark came from. Please check your first bulletin point in the article, you say cinnamon is a “coagulant” and I think you might mean it to say it’s an “anti-coagulant”.

  27. Omar Ayyash via Facebook
    July 14, 2014 | 9:43 am

    to avoid fakes, sadly you have to switch to heirloom and have it organic.

  28. Lisa
    July 15, 2014 | 2:25 pm

    Thanks so much for this eye-opening post!! I love cinnamon and thought I was doing the right thing by buying Simply Organic’s brand of ground cinnamon … but I just ordered the pack from Cinnamon Hill with a box of each type of cinnamon, a grater and a cup to store it in. Can’t wait to try “real” cinnamon!

    • Kristen Michaelis
      July 15, 2014 | 4:53 pm

      I was the same way!! You won’t regret trying it fresh. It’s sooooo sweet, not bitter at all.

  29. Melinda
    July 15, 2014 | 6:23 pm

    This sounds an awful lot like a dig at another blog who wrote a blog post with the opposite name.
    And, you go on to mention your sponsor, so you have something to sell.

  30. Pat in FL
    July 15, 2014 | 11:58 pm

    Kristen, My husband just ordered the Original Cinnamon Lovers Starter Pack for us after I told him about reading your post on real cinnamon from Cinnamon Hill. Keep up the good work. You are not a villain giving out false information and the same shoe does not fit everybody(no two people are alike). The world is full of people with tunnel vision. Thanks again. Viva La Cinnamon.

  31. Kimberly
    July 16, 2014 | 9:41 am

    I loved this article, your writing is inspiring!

    It gives me a new perspective for thinking about chores and how to make them more enjoyable.

    Great info about the cinnamon!

  32. John Wright
    July 16, 2014 | 11:31 am

    I read this post right after waking up;only to
    be reminded of how just saying the word beautiful
    gives me an awesome feeling! haha :). Thanks for
    the article.

  33. Debbie
    July 16, 2014 | 12:08 pm

    Hi Kristen, I appreciate your dedication to our happiness and nutrition. Thank you. I have a question about the cinnamon that you source from Vietnam and Sri Lanka. You mentioned that they are all wrapped individually. Can you tell me what they are wrapped in? Is it plastic?
    Thanks :)

    • Kristen Michaelis
      July 16, 2014 | 12:10 pm

      Yes. It is plastic. (I know it’s less than ideal, but really *all* food packaging is. AND I’m buying something obviously NOT LOCAL, so I’ve already compromised on that bit anyway…)

  34. chantelle
    July 16, 2014 | 8:56 pm

    Thanks for being beautiful Kristen, and doing things beautifully. And wow, that grater is so nifty.

  35. Rachel
    July 17, 2014 | 12:45 am

    FYI, your “standard disclosures” link is broken.

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Who Am I?

My name is Kristen Michaelis. I'm a nutrition educator, author, and mother of three. I adore hats, happy skirts, horizons full of storm clouds, the full-bodied feel of wind as I ride motorcylces, reading in my hammock, and a hearty shot of Caol Ila scotch. I'm also a rebel with a cause.
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