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Cinnamon is more than a delicious baking ingredient. It packs a surprising health punch! Learn more about the four types of cinnamon, ways to use cinnamon in your drinks and food, and even how to use cinnamon for the health of your plants in the garden!
Cinnamon is essential whether it accompanies apples, squash, sweet potatoes, or mulled cider. Its sweet and warming ways lend beautifully to the harvest time. From cozy autumn favorites to flavorful winter dishes, cinnamon’s warmth fits the cold-weather seasons.
But did you know that not all cinnamon is created equal? The most common one found in U.S. grocery stores and probably in your spice cabinet is cassia cinnamon—which is relatively mild compared to other types.
While hundreds of types of cinnamon are growing in the world, four primary varieties are sold commercially. These are Ceylon, Cassia, Korintje, and Saigon cinnamon.
All come from the bark of evergreen trees in the genus Cinnamomum. The bark is harvested from the tree and laid out to dry in the sun. During this drying process, the cinnamon takes on its signature scrolled form.
The cinnamon is either sold like this, ground, or the lesser quality is turned into pieces. All of the varieties mentioned look pretty similar with the same roll-like quill. However, upon closer feel and taste, their differences begin to emerge.
Where Does Cinnamon Come From
Of the four varieties, there is only one “true cinnamon.” This is known as Ceylon cinnamon(Cinnamomum verum). However, it’s less common in the grocery store!
Look for Ceylon at a specialty store or market. It has a more fragrant scent. It is light brown in color with a sweet and mild taste with a note of citrus.
Ceylon is grown mainly in Sri Lanka and is commonly found in kitchens throughout Mexico, India, South Asia, and Latin America. The quills of Ceylon differ from that of the other varieties. Ceylon bark is brittle and, therefore, easily broken.
The remaining three cinnamon varieties all fall under “cassia.” This is the more common (and relatively inexpensive) type of cinnamon and what would most likely be found ground in your spice cupboard for baking.
Cassia is known for its hard, thick, dark-red scroll or quill. The most common Cinnamomum cassia (C. aromaticum) originates from China and is referenced as “Cassia.” The second variety, “Korintje” (C. burmannii) originates from Indonesia. Both have a subtle sweetness and fragrance to them.
The third cassia, commonly called “Saigon” (C. loureiroi), is grown in Vietnam and has the most intense flavor. It is something like a fireball with its surprising heat paired with a sweet, amazing note.
5 Health Benefits of Cinnamon
When you drink that cinnamon tea, it tastes delicious and has medicinal benefits!
Cinnamon has long been studied for its effects on helping to lower blood sugar levels by managing the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream. Studies show cinnamon helps lower fasting blood sugar levels in diabetics.
Cinnamon’s scent is from the essential oils in the bark, called cinnamaldehyde, which has antiviral and antibacterial properties to protect your health.
There is also some evidence that cinnamon consumption may help reduce blood pressure in the short term, but studies are still in progress.
Cinnamon also has prebiotic properties which may help with digestive issues; the prebiotic bacteria aid with the balance of bacteria in your gut.
Finally, cinnamon may help with memory retention. This spice contains two compounds that inhibit the build-up of protein fragments in the brain, which slow a person’s memory in cases of Alzheimer’s.
One safety note: The cassia cinnamons are less expensive or more available, but they have a much higher level of coumarin—a blood thinner that studies show is toxic to the liver—than the Ceylon cinnamon. It’s not something most people need to worry about as the risk for damage with normal or even much higher than regular consumption of cassia cinnamon is negligible. However, it is always best to consult your physician for medical advice if you have concerns.
Cinnamon is also a natural way to deter pests in the home or garden, especially ants who wander into your house. Sprinkle the spice on any paths leading into your home (or greenhouse). Also, if you have a sandbox, mixing in cinnamon will keep ants away.
Use cinnamon with new cuttings to stimulate their roots. Cinnamon is an antifungal agent. Just roll the cut ends in cinnamon powder before setting in the soil.
Finally, cinnamon’s anti-fungal powers are helpful when starting new seeds and growing seedlings. Mix with water in a spray bottle to spray the potting soil and plant stems where they meet the soil. It will keep mushrooms and any fungus away to avoid damping off disease.
Ways to Add Cinnamon to Your Daily Diet
Whether using cinnamon for its taste or its health, there are many varieties to choose from, and there is no right or wrong way to use it. Keep a shaker of cinnamon on your stove as you might salt or pepper! Here are some ideas:
Coffee: We often enjoy adding a small Ceylon quill to the coffee grounds to infuse a hint of the sweet, fragrant cinnamon flavor.
Tea: Cinnamon tea with honey is another delicious beverage that can be served warm or iced.
Make a batch of Chai spice (cinnamon is the main ingredient in most recipes), and add 1/8 teaspoon to a cup of hot black tea. Add a dash of milk to sweeten to your taste. Yum!
Savory dishes: In India and Asia, it is much more common to use cinnamon in savory dishes than we do here. Try adding a cinnamon quill to your next stew or broth. Or, try Mother’s Lemon-Baked Chicken.
Tomato sauce: A modest amount of cinnamon in tomato sauce can be an excellent addition; this is a classic Greek style.
Of course, cinnamon is lovely in warm oatmeal, or we love a cinnamon butter spread on morning toast.
Give some zip to a standard batch of brownies with the addition of a 2 to 3 tablespoons of cinnamon, 1 to 2 teaspoons of chili powder, and a dash (or more) of cayenne.
Enjoy classic autumnal baked goods like pumpkin pie, apple pie, and sweet potato pie that wouldn’t be the same without the sweet warmth of cinnamon.
Of course, baked goods such as cinnamon rolls let cinnamon be the star of the show! Here are some recipes from our archives: