Cinnamon is one of the most widely used spices in the world. Not only does it have a wonderful flavoring, but it also provides some amazing health benefits. In fact, cinnamon has been used as an herbal medicine for centuries.
What type of health benefits does cinnamon offer? Are there different types of cinnamon? Keep on reading to find out everything you need to know about this incredible spice.
The History of Cinnamon
Some of the first documented uses of cinnamon were mentioned in the bible; however, it was already being used as an important spice in many civilizations prior to being spoken of in the bible. In fact, the history of cinnamon use dates back to 2000 BC. The ancient Egyptians are the first known people to use cinnamon for medicinal purposes. During these times, it was used similar to how it is used today, as a flavorful spice and as a medicine. It was also used as an embalming agent. Though cinnamon was used for so many reasons, it was scarcely available in those times, which is why the ancient Egyptians considered it more valuable than gold.
The value of cinnamon continued to grow. The Europeans and Chinese used the spice on a daily basis, for both its flavor and its healing abilities. In fact, this spice became so popular that it was one of the most popularly traded items in many cultures right into the 1700s.
What is Cinnamon?
Here’s a fact that might surprise you: cinnamon comes from a tree. It is actually the bark of a tree. The bark is ground, creating the powdery spice that you are familiar with. There are two different types of cinnamon: cassia cinnamon and Ceylon cinnamon. The latter is generally thought to be a ‘fake’ cinnamon, as it does not provide as much medicinal value, while the former is said to be the ‘true’ cinnamon because of its high medicinal power.
Cassia cinnamon is the type that is most commonly available for purchase in grocery stores; about 90 percent of the cinnamon that is imported to the US is the ‘fake’ cinnamon.
The Difference between Cassia and Ceylon Cinnamon
Though both varieties of cinnamon, cassia and Ceylon, have similar flavors, there are actually a lot of differences between the two. One of the differences lies in the flavor: Ceylon cinnamon isn’t as sweet as cassia, and it isn’t as widely available. In order to find the ‘true’ cinnamon, you usually have to go to a specialty store.
Taste isn’t the only way that the two types of cinnamon differ. Interestingly, the cassia, or the ‘fake’ cinnamon, has a high amount of coumarin, a flavoring agent that can actually be toxic. With prolonged use, coumarin has the potential to cause various health problems, most notably damage to the liver. Cassia usually has 1,000 times more than Ceylon cinnamon.
Ceylon cinnamon is harder to find and more expensive than cassia cinnamon. It also comes from a different plant, cinnamomum zeylanicum, than cassia cinnamon. The ‘real’ cinnamon is lighter in color, is a bit shinier and has a softer appearance than ‘fake’ cinnamon. The sticks of Ceylon cinnamon also have a multiple layers, giving it a filled look, kind of like a cigar. Additionally, the ‘real’ spice has significantly less coumarin than the ‘fake’ variety.
It can be difficult to differentiate between the two types of cinnamon, which makes it difficult to buy the ‘real’ type. When you are shopping, the best way to make sure that you are purchasing Ceylon cinnamon is to forego the powder and purchase sticks, as it’s easier to tell the difference between the two by looking at the sticks. Remember, Ceylon sticks have a layered look and is lighter in color than cassia cinnamon.
Ceylon Cinnamon: The Benefits
So, what type of health benefits does Ceylon cinnamon offer? The benefits lie in the elements in the essential oils that the spice contains. These three elements include:
- Cinnamyl alcohol
- Cinnamyl acetate
All three of these elements have antifungal and antibacterial agents, and when combined together, they create a very powerful, antioxidant spice.
Some of the most notable potential benefits of Ceylon cinnamon include the following:
- Anti-clotting: One of the most valuable health benefits of Ceylon cinnamon is its anti-clotting ability, which comes from the cinamaldehyde that it contains. Research has indicated that cinamaldehyde stops the platelets from clotting. While clotting is important because it stops bleeding when a wound occurs, for example, everyday clotting isn’t good for health. It can cause the formation of blood clots in the body, which are potentially fatal. Additionally, Ceylon cinnamon also performs on a cellular level, which classifies it as an anti-inflammatory food. It helps to prevent the release of some inflammatory acids, such as arachidonic acid.
- Controls Blood Sugar: Ceylon cinnamon may actually help to regulate blood sugar levels. If you put the spice on carbohydrate dense foods, it can help to minimize the effect of the food on your blood sugar levels. Research has found that the compounds in Ceylon cinnamon create a response in insulin receptors, and also prevents an enzyme that blocks those receptors, which makes the cells of the body better able to the sugar that it takes in through food.
- Treats Fungal Infections: Ceylon cinnamon may be a powerful antioxidant. It might help to prevent the growth of bacteria and fungus, including the common candida yeast, which is responsible for creating fungal infections throughout the body.
- Improved Memory: One scientific study suggests that cinnamon enhances cognitive processing. This study found that several parts of the brain were enhanced by cinnamon, which leads to improved overall memory. However, it is important to note that the research isn’t comprehensive, as the effects of cinnamon on the brain have not been extensively studied.
Based on scientific findings, the health benefits of Ceylon cinnamon are many. No wonder why people have been using this spice for its medicinal purposes for centuries.