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 an anti-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!
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?
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?
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.