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What is True Cinnamon?

Cinnamon has become a common household name. However, most of us have little understanding of this spice that is being consumed almost everyday in various forms and quantities. If you don’t know the origin of it, you never know what you consume under the generic name of “cinnamon,” as cinnamon could come from a variety of sources. Pharmacological effects of Cinnamon could vary very well depending on its source.

Cinnamon could originate from Canella winterana, a plant species that is totally unrelated to cinnamon. Canella winterana is a tree native to the Caribbean; from the Florida Keys to Barbados.

Another source of cinnamon comes from one of the species under the genus Cinnamomum, which is Cinnmomum aromaticum or Cinnmomum cassia. Hence, this cinnamon is commonly known as Cassia. Since China produces the bulk of Cassia for the world market, it is also called Chinese Cassia. A sizable production of Cassia also comes from Vietnam. Cassia is more widely available in the global cinnamon market and has a strong and harsh flavor. For this reason, Cassia, which is also sometimes called “bastard cinnamon” is less expensive. Cassia’s bark is quite thick, very rough and difficult to crush. Most cinnamon found in the USA and Canada comes from Cassia. Cassia has significantly high level of Coumarin, a blood thinner and a liver toxin.

Alternatively, you may be consuming a more delicately flavored cinnamon that comes from Cinnamomum zeylanicum, which is also called Cinnamomum verum. Cinnamomum zeylanicum is native to Sri Lanka and is the source for what we commonly called “true cinnamon” or Ceylon cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon grows in Sri Lanka, Madagascar and the Seychelles. Sri Lanka produces 80-90% of “true cinnamon.” Out of 27,500 – 35,000 tons of the annual global production of total cinnamon, “true cinnamon” accounts for only 7,500 – 10,000 tons. The bark of “true cinnamon” is thin, fragile and easy to crush. Due to its delicate and smooth taste, along with its mild flavor and small supply, “true cinnamon” is generally more expensive than Cassia. “True cinnamon” is the preferred form of cinnamon in Mexico and Europe. Compared to Cassia, “true cinnamon” has negligible amounts of Coumarin.

THE COMPOSITION OF CINNAMON EXTRACTS VARY BY THE PART OF THE CINNAMON TREE USED AS WELL AS THE PROCESS OF EXTRACTION

The Cinnamon tree produces a range of natural products with sweet aroma, taste, and most importantly, with various pharmacological effects. However, their compositions vary from species to species. Even in a single plant, the natural product composition varies depending on what part of the plant is used to make an extract. For example, in Cinnamomum zeylanicum, the oil made from the leaves carries Eugenol as the main component, while the oil produced from the bark and roots carry Cinnamaldehyde and Camphor, respectively, as main components. Pounding, macerating in seawater and quickly distilling, produces the essential oil from bark. The essential oil from the leaves is harvested by straight distilling of dry leaves.

THE ART OF “TRUE CINNAMON” PRODUCTION IN SRI LANKA

After two years of planting, trees are coppiced, which prompts the growth of dozens of shoots to be harvested in the following year. Branches are harvested, scraped and the outer bark is discarded, followed by careful removing of the inner bark (up to 0.5 mm) after evenly beating the branch with a hammer. Without much delay, and while it is still wet, the harvested inner bark is rolled into quills. During this process, quillings and featherings are packed inside quills. Quillings are the bark pieces shorter than 4” and featherings are the inner barks of twisted shoots and twigs. Quills will be dried under adequate ventilation before they are released to the market. “True cinnamon” quills produced in this fashion consist of thin and smooth bark that is light yellowish brown in color with a characteristic highly fragrant aroma.

What research has been done on Cinnamon?

Below are some selected links to research that has been done on Cinnamon: