Cinnamomum verum J. Presl1
Cinnamomum zeylanicum Blume
Cinnamon has been enjoyed since ancient times, mentioned in not only the Bible, but also in Egyptian texts. It was widely traded thousands of years ago in Europe and in Asia by Arab spice traders. Its uniquely sweet and delicious flavor and warming, uplifting aroma have been utilized in countless confectionaries, baked goods, perfumes, cosmetics, beverages, and cordials. Sweet cinnamon, often referred to as 'true cinnamon', has a more subtle, delicate, and sweet flavor than the closely related cassia cinnamon. Recent scientific studies validate many of the traditional uses of this medicinal spice, indicating its health enhancing properties.3-12
Cinnamomum verum is a small evergreen tree native to tropical southern India and Sri Lanka, growing from sea level to almost 3,000 feet.13 It has been introduced to Madagascar and the Seychelles and is cultivated there extensively.14 It belongs to the Laurel or Lauraceae family, a family containing diverse genera ranging from the Mediterranean bay tree, to sassafras, paw-paw, and the tropical avocado.16 This genus of evergreen trees and shrubs contains more than 300 species17 which are native or naturalized in tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas, Asia, Australia, New Zealand and other tropical islands in the Pacific Ocean.18 Many having aromatic oils in their leaves, buds, and bark. Cinnamomum contains such species as C. camphora,16 (from which camphor is derived) and the botanical sibling to true cinnamon, which is most often referred to as 'cassia' (C. aromaticum). The generic name Cinnamomum, is derived from the Greek 'kinnamon' or 'kinnamomon' meaning 'sweet wood.'15 In the United States both species of 'sweet wood' are often used without distinction and are referred to as 'cinnamon' thus creating some confusion around the true identity.15 C. aromaticum is native to China, and the very similar C. burmanni, also referred to as cassia, is native to Indonesia.19 The former Latin binomial for true or sweet cinnamon, C. zeylanicum, refers to its native habitat in Ceylon (which was then named Sri Lanka in 1972)14 C. verum is referred to as 'true cinnamon' (the species name 'verum' is Latin for 'true' as this species is considered the most authentic) and is thought to be more sweet and delicate than the somewhat pungent tasting cassia.20 Further, the bark of cassia is thicker and darker than true cinnamon. The common name, 'cassia', is believed to be derived from the Greek word kassia, meaning to strip off the bark.15
Cultivation And Harvesting
C. verum is cultivated extensively in Sri Lanka and the coastal regions of India. Commercial production also takes place in India, Malaysia, Madagascar, and the Seychelles. Sri Lanka produces most of the global supply.14 The global trade in C. verum is between 7,500 to 10,000 tonnes annually whereas trade in cassia or C. aromaticum is between 20,000 to 25,000 tonnes annually.14
History And Folklore
Cinnamon bark has been used for thousands of years in traditional Eastern and Western medicines.13 It appears in recorded history dating back to at least 1,700 years B.C.E where it was a component of embalming fluid in ancient Egypt.15 The Arabs were avid spice traders who provided this spice to the ancient Romans, Greeks, and Hebrews.15 These cultures treasured cinnamon as a spice, utilizing it in perfumes and medicines alike. It is believed that they were part of a spiced wine referred to as 'Hippocras'.20 European explorers considered cinnamon to be the most sought after spice of the 15th and 16th centuries and by the 17th century, it was considered a common kitchen spice. By the 19th century, cinnamon was commonly used medicinally to support digestion.15 It is a component of 'garam masala', a spice used in Indian cooking comprised of turmeric, peppercorns, cloves, cumin, and cardamom. Further, it is found in many Middle Eastern and North African dishes, as a spice for lamb or stuffed eggplant, and often added to chocolate in Mexico.18
In Ayurveda (traditional Indian system of healing) cinnamon is referred to as 'twak'2 and believed to support the respiratory, digestive, nervous, circulatory, urinary, and reproductive systems.2 It is a highly valued and multipurpose medicinal herb. According to the Ayurvedic practitioner, Karta Khalsa, "the classic patient who can benefit from cinnamon is cold, dry, and frail."2 Cinnamon is considered to be a warming herb that is stimulating to the circulatory system and soothing to the digestive system.2,21 The essential oil is used extensively as a flavoring for soft drinks, baked goods, sauces, confectioneries and liqueurs. It is distilled from a mixture of leaves, twigs and bark, and must be used with caution as a fragrance as it does have skin sensitizing properties.18 Cassia is the cinnamon most often used in TCM as it is native to China.22
True cinnamon and cassia are quite similar and are often confused in trade.14 In the United States, the American Spice Trade Association approves labeling for both cassia and true cinnamon bark as simply 'cinnamon' for use as a seasoning.23 There are subtle taste differences and chemical properties, yet for medicinal purposes these species have been traditionally used almost interchangeably.14
Flavor Notes And Energetics
Sweet and spicy (less peppery than cassia) and energetically warming and drying.2
Tonic, analgesic, circulatory stimulant, diaphoretic, alterative, expectorant,21 carminative, digestive, stomachic,13,20 emmenagogue20
Uses And Preparations
Dried inner bark as a spice, tea, potpourri, tincture, or powdered and encapsulated.
Note: Cassia bark is harder, thicker and more rough than true cinnamon. It is also more tan whereas true cinnamon is reddish. Cassia sticks curl inward from both sides toward the center as they dry. True cinnamon has many thin layers of bark.24
Volatile oils containing cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, and trans-cinnamic acid, phenolic compounds, condensed tannins, catechins, and proanthocyanidins, monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes such as pinene, calcium-monoterpenes oxalate, gum, mucilage, resin, starch, sugars, and traces of coumarin.13
One of the main differences between these two types of cinnamon is that cassia contains higher concentrations of coumarin, which in high doses, can have a negative impact on liver and kidney health. Otherwise, many of their medicinal qualities are the same, as these two species are so closely related.24
Specific: No known precautions.
For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.