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Whether it’s sprinkled atop a steaming pumpkin spice latte, dropped as a curl of bark into a hot wintertime cider, or featured in an aromatic, freshly baked apple pie, cinnamon has the power to evoke a degree of nostalgia and luxury that few other spices can match. Since ancient times, the fragrant spice has delighted palates, influenced the fate of nations, and been hailed for its supposed medicinal properties. Considering the deep history of cinnamon, it may seem as if you’ve already learned everything there is to know about this common household ingredient. But think again! Read on to find out if you’re getting the most out of cinnamon and to learn when its use can put you at risk.
What Is Cinnamon? Definition Cinnamon is an ancient spice that comes from the bark of several species of the cinnamomum genus of evergreen trees, which belong to the laurel family, per the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) . The most popular types of cinnamon are native to Sri Lanka and China, though cinnamon is grown throughout Asia, Europe, and North America. In antiquity, cinnamon was prized as much for its sweet, sharp, and sensuous fragrance as it was for its taste. The ancient Egyptians used cinnamon along with myrrh to embalm the dead, and the Romans burned it on funeral pyres, according to a research paper . It was used in religious ceremonies by the ancient Hebrews and is mentioned in the Bible as an ingredient in the preparation of a holy anointing oil. Beginning in the 10th century, Arab traders brought cinnamon from Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), along with other spices, to Europe, as Al Jazeera reports. The Portuguese took over the cinnamon trade in Ceylon during the 16th century, and centuries of fighting over the spice ensued between them, the Ceylonese, and Dutch and British colonizers. In time, cultivation of the sought-after spice spread around the world. Today, cinnamon is more likely to evoke feelings of comfort rather than bloodlust.
Types of Cinnamon Types While there are many types of cinnamon, there are four main species of the spice that are widely used around the world, according to a research paper on the topic: Cinnamomum cassia is the cinnamon you are most likely to have in your kitchen cabinet. It is native to China and the most common type sold in the United States and Canada. Cinnamomum verum , also known as true cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon, comes primarily from Sri Lanka. It is more delicately flavored than cassia and more highly prized though less widely used. Cinnamomum burmannii , also called Indonesian cinnamon, has a smoother taste than other types of cinnamon. Cinnamomum loureiroi , also known as Vietnamese cinnamon, is usually considered stronger in flavor.
Cinnamon Nutrition Facts Nutrition According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture , these are the nutrition facts for 1 teaspoon (tsp) of ground cinnamon. Calories: 6 Protein: 0 grams (g) Carbohydrates: 2 g Dietary fiber: 1 g Total sugars: 0 g Total fat: 0 g Cholesterol: 0 milligrams (mg) Sodium: 0 mg Calcium: 26 mg Potassium: 11 mg Magnesium: 2 mg Phosphorus: 2 mg Vitamin K: 1 microgram Vitamin A: 8 international units
Potential Health Benefits of Cinnamon Benefits Cinnamon has a long reputation of being a healing agent. The spice has been credited with antibacterial, antimicrobial, antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory properties, according to a research paper (PDF) . That and other research from a review of its traditional uses suggest cinnamon may help with these situations: Treating acne-causing bacteria Easing the discomfort of urinary tract infections Soothing stomach troubles Combating bad breath, toothaches, and oral infections Studies have explored the possibility that cinnamon can help with the following as well: Managing blood sugar, per one paper Improving high cholesterol, notes a systematic review and meta-anaylsis Easing rheumatoid arthritis symptoms in some people, according to a review and meta-analysis of randomized, controlled trials Providing a potential additional treatment for multiple sclerosis, according to an article Yet the research so far is preliminary, and according to the NCCIH, “studies done in people don’t clearly support using cinnamon for any health condition.” More Studies on Cinnamon Benefits Are Needed One of the most widely circulated claims is that cinnamon supplements help people with diabetes control their blood sugar; to counter this, the NCCIH points to a review published in 2019 of 18 studies looking at cinnamon supplementation in people with diabetes. The research showed that while cinnamon did reduce blood sugar levels, it did not have a significant effect on hemoglobin A1C, which reflects blood sugar levels over a longer period of time. However, the NCCIH notes that it’s difficult to interpret the results, as 10 of the studies did not note the type of cinnamon used and others were considered low quality.
Can Cinnamon Help With Weight Loss? Weight Loss Spices like cinnamon can be flavor boons for dieters adjusting to dishes that are lower in sugar or salt than they are accustomed to. But there’s little evidence that cinnamon actually has medical properties that aid weight loss. One study suggested that cinnamaldehyde, a chemical compound that helps give cinnamon its flavor, may help human and mouse fat cells burn energy. Yet the fat cells — taken through liposuction — were treated with the compound after being removed from the body. And it’s not clear that you could get a similar effect by ingesting cinnamon. It’s better to focus on consuming fewer calories than you burn through a well-balanced diet and physical activity rather than rely on the supposedly magical properties of any particular ingredient to shed pounds.
How to Select and Store Cinnamon Select and Store You can tell the difference between Ceylon and cassia cinnamon quills by the way they curl: The former are like a telescope in shape, and the latter curl inward from both sides, like a scroll. Ground Ceylon cinnamon is tan, with a delicate and sweet flavor, while cassia is reddish brown, coarser in texture, and more pungent in flavor and aroma, as The Spruce Eats reports. As Mrs. Fields recommends, store cinnamon in any form in an airtight container and in a cool, dark place. The flavor of spices like cinnamon may wane as time passes, but they may be good to eat for up to two years. If you’re not sure whether your cinnamon is good to eat, smell it. If it carries a rotten stench, toss it. If the cinnamon still smells sweet, it’s likely okay to eat.
How to Eat Cinnamon How to Eat Cinnamon sticks can impart flavor to a dish or sauce during the cooking process and then be discarded before serving. Ground cinnamon can be mixed into foods or sprinkled atop baked goods, desserts, savory dishes, and beverages. Used sparingly, cinnamon extract can liven all manner of dishes. The possibilities are endless! Other Ways to Enjoy Cinnamon Cinnamon is harvested from the peels of the inner bark of a cinnamomum tree, per Encyclopedia Britannica . The peels are left to dry and curl naturally into quills, also known as cinnamon sticks. The quills can then be ground into powder or processed to make cinnamon oil, cinnamon extract, and other cinnamon products. There are many popularly enjoyed forms of cinnamon. Quills Rolled-up pieces of cinnamon bark are great for steeping in a cup of tea, coffee , or hot cider, or throw them into a slow cooker with meat. The true cinnamon variety of quills are known as Ceylon sticks. Powder Ground cinnamon bark is the most likely form of cinnamon in kitchen cabinets, and is popular to incorporate into breakfast foods like oats, lists the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s MyPlate guidelines. You can grind your own using Ceylon sticks, which are soft enough to process in a coffee grinder (this is not the case with tougher cassia quills). Essential Oil Oils made from the bark, leaves, and root bark of the cinnamon tree are used for their fragrance, flavor, and supposed medicinal properties, according to a research paper . Cinnamaldehyde, which gives cinnamon its taste, is the main chemical compound derived from cinnamon bark oil. Leaf oil contains high concentrations of eugenol, which is sometimes used as an antiseptic. Root bark oil contains high concentrations of camphor. Extract This solution is made by soaking cinnamon sticks in ethanol alcohol, removing the solids, then using the remaining liquid for flavoring. You can purchase it or make it at home . Supplements These are sold in pill and capsule form, and are taken for possible medicinal purposes. “Cinnamon supplements appear to be safe when consumed in the amounts commonly used in foods as a spice or flavoring agent,” according to the NCCIH. It is also important to note that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t regulate supplements the same way it does conventional medications, so the quality and ingredients may vary from company to company and even batch to batch. Consult your doctor before taking cinnamon supplements.
Health Risks of Cinnamon Risks Anyone who remembers the so-called cinnamon challenge of a few years back — which involved downing a spoonful of ground cinnamon without any liquid to chase it down — knows that consuming the spice in a reckless manner can result in choking, vomiting, and trouble breathing. Potential for a Rare Side Effect: Liver Damage A health risk of note about cinnamon involves the fragrant compound coumarin, which is used in some countries as a vanilla substitute. At high levels — much higher than the average person ingests — coumarin can lead to liver damage in sensitive individuals. According to research , the compound is found in trace amounts of Ceylon cinnamon plants but in significantly higher levels in cassia cinnamon. According to a paper that cites the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, one kilogram (2.2 pounds) of cassia powder contains 2,100 to 4,400 mg of coumarin, which translates to roughly 6 to 12 mg of coumarin in 1 tsp. Given the liberal use of cassia cinnamon in baked goods in Europe, the European Food Safety Authority has recommended a tolerable daily intake of 0.1 mg of coumarin per kilogram of body weight, the amount in roughly 1 tsp of cassia cinnamon per day. The United States has no such guideline, but the FDA has banned the use of coumarin as a food additive. Drug Interactions People who take blood thinners should consult with their doctors about using cassia cinnamon due to potential interactions with those medications, such as warfarin (Jantoven or Coumadin) , which are derived from coumarin, according to a research paper . Is It Possible to Be Allergic to Cinnamon? Allergic reactions to spices like cinnamon can happen, but they’re rare, according to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology . What’s more common is a rash on the skin, resulting from irritation to certain properties of the spice, the organization reports. While extremely rare, anaphylaxis, which is a severe allergic reaction, has been reported with some spices and is a medical emergency. Symptoms of anaphylaxis include trouble breathing, low blood pressure, hives, a weak or rapid pulse, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and fainting, per the Mayo Clinic .
Summary Summary Cinnamon is an ancient spice that has a rich history and has been used in cultures throughout the world. Over the years, it’s been prized for both its fragrance and taste, and some believe it even has medicinal properties. However, while researchers have looked into the potential health benefits of cinnamon, there isn’t strong conclusive evidence that the spice is effective at treating any medical conditions. Still, cinnamon can be part of a healthy diet, and there are numerous ways to enjoy it, including sprinkling it over coffee or tea, adding it to a dessert or bowl of oats for breakfast, or incorporating it into a slow-cooker meal.

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