With the winter months coming up, it is time to boost our immune system and organic cinnamon might be one of the spice to incorporate in our daily diet.
Where is cinnamon coming from
Cinnamon, also known as Cinnamomum zeylanicum, Ceylon cinnamon or “true cinnamon” comes from a small evergreen tree of 10 to 15 meter-high belonging to the Lauraceae family and to the genus Cinnamomum. Cinnamon is native to South East Asia and more particularly to Sri-Lanka that supplies 90% of the cinnamon in the whole world. Cinnamon comes from the Greek kinnámomon and means sweet wood. Cinnamon was not available in Europe before the 16th century but it was already a highly praised spice in the Ancient World (Greece, Egypt, Phoenicia) where it was offered to Gods or to Kings.
The cinnamon is extracted from the roots of the trees that are grown for 2 years and then coppiced (cut down), allowing new branches or shoots to regenerate. Only the inner barks from these shoots are extracted (0.5 mm of inner bark is used) in long rolls of cinnamon strips that curl into rolls upon drying and that are then cut into smaller rolls for trade.
The strong smell of cinnamon is due to its content of essential oil (cinnamon essential oil) and more particularly its chemical content cinnamaldehyde that amounts for 60% of the cinnamon essential oil.
Real cinnamon versus cassia
Real cinnamon is often confused with cassia that looks a bit similar but that is in fact really different. Cassia is known under the latin name Cinnamomum aromaticum and also belongs to the Lauraceae family but to the genus Cassia. Cassia, especially in powder form is often sold and substituted for cinnamon while it is not and when we think we are eating cinnamon, more often we are actually eating cassia. In the past few years, this has alarmed the health authorities in Europe that are sending warnings against consuming large amounts of cassia because cassia can actually be dangerous for our health unlike cinnamon. Indeed, cassia is rich in an ingredient called coumarin. Coumarin can be toxic and create liver and kidney damages when taken constantly.
How to tell the difference between real cinnamon and cassia?
When using cinnamon and cassia in the form of sticks, it is actually very easy to tell the difference. Cinnamon is made of very thin and many cinnamon bark layers like on the picture above and the stick looks much like a cigar. Cassia on the other hand is a more solid, uniform and hollow stick with a darker brown color.
In the form of powder, it is more complicated to determine if you are eating cinnamon or cassia but real cinnamon has a sweet aroma while cassia has a harsher smell. Also, the origin of the product can give a clue as to whether it is cinnamon or cassia. Cinnamon is called Ceylon cinnamon and comes typically from Sri Lanka while cassia will often say Chinese cinnamon or Saigon cinnamon. In the USA, most grounded cinnamon sold is actually cassia.
The health benefits of cinnamon
If you want to take advantage of the health properties of cinnamon, ensure that you are actually getting real cinnamon, otherwise, it will not work. Cinnamon is known to boost the immune system and will help ward off colds and flu thanks to its anti-bacterial and anti-microbial properties and antioxidant activities. A teaspoon of cinnamon contains as much antioxidants as a pomegranate juice glass. It may help the digestive system and bowel movement disorders. A recent study published in the Diabetic Medicine: A Journal of the British Diabetic Association October 2010 showed that taking 2g of cinnamon a day can help lower blood sugar in Type 2 diabetes as well as lower blood pressure. Cinnamon can also help with blood circulation and as a sexual stimulant. It can be used in case of tooth ache and bad breath. It is great to repel insects.
Of course, cinnamon is mainly used in cooking and incorporating cinnamon in your meals, desserts, beverages will have the positive effects listed above. You can for example incorporate cinnamon in your breakfast by blending 2 fresh oranges with a tea spoon of cinnamon and drink as a morning boost.
If you want to refresh your home and take advantage of the anti-bacterial properties of cinnamon, you can also get cinnamon essential oil and pour a few drops in the filter of your vacuum cleaner. It will leave your house free of bacteria while smelling really good. However, be careful when using cinnamon essential oil as this oil is very strong and can be irritating to the nose or to the skin if improperly used.