Secrets of Cinnamon: Types and Health Benefits | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Cinnamon Is the Star Spice of the Fall Season


Cinnamon is the star spice of Autumn

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Attar Herbs & Spices

Types of Cinnamon, Health Benefits, and Ways to Add It to Your Diet

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Every season has a star spice, and there's no doubt that autumn ushers in the call for cinnamon to shine. Discover more about the different types of cinnamon, health benefits of cinnamon, and different ways to add cinnamon to your diet from coffee to tea to recipes. It's the spice of life! 

Sure, pumpkin spice is super popular, what is pumpkin spice?  Well, it's mostly cinnamon. Sure, there’s ground ginger and clove, but the dominant flavor profile is cinnamon.

Whether it's apples, squash, sweet potatoes, mulled cider or wine, cinnamon is essential. It's sweet and warming ways lend beautifully to the harvesttime. From cozy autumn dishes to flavorful savory dishes, cinnamon's warmth just fits the season.

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 quite mild. Learn more...

There Are Four Main Types of Cinnamon

While there are hundreds of types of cinnamon growing in the world, there are four primary varieties that are sold commercially. These are Ceylon, Korintje, Saigon, and Cassia cinnamon.

All kinds of cinnamon come from evergreen trees in the genus Cinnamomum. Cinnamon itself is derived from the bark of the tree. The bark is harvested from the tree and laid out to dry in the sun. It is during this drying process that 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 quite similar with the same scroll-like quill. However, upon closer feel and taste, their differences begin to emerge.  

The One True Cinnamon

Of the four varieties, there is only one "true cinnamon." This is known as Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum). Ceylon is grown mostly 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. It is light brown in color with a taste that is sweet and mild with a note of citrus. 


Cassia, Korintje, and Saigon Cinnamon

The remaining three varieties all fall under the category of cassia. They are known for their hard, thick, dark-red scroll or quill and are what would most likely be found ground in your spice cupboard. In most parts of the world these varieties are referred to simply as cassia. Of these three, Saigon or Vietnamese cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureiroi) is grown in Vietnam and has the most intense flavor of all. It is something like a fireball with its surprising heat paired with a sweet note that is just amazing. The other two, Korintje and Cassia (Cinnamomum burmannii and aromaticum) both have a more subtle sweetness and fragrance to them.

Health Benefits of Cinnamon

Cinnamon has long been studied for its effects on helping to regulate blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetes. While there are many studies and anecdotal evidence that point to its efficacy the exact mechanism of action is still unclear.

One thing to keep in mind if adding cinnamon into the diet for health benefits is that the cassia spices 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 normal consumption of cassia cinnamon is negligible. However, if you have concerns it is always best to consult with your physician for medical advice. 

Cinnamon Rolls Recipe. Credit: Brent Hofacker/shutterstock

Ways to Add Cinnamon to Your Daily Diet

Whether using cinnamon for the taste of it or the health of it, 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 beverage that is delicious and 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, and/or 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 wonderful 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 just wouldn't be the same without the sweet warmth of cinnamon.
  • Of course, baked goods such as cinnamon coffee cake and cinnamon rolls let cinnamon be the star of the show! Here are some recipes from our archives:

Cinnamon Coffee Cake

Cinnamon Rolls

Apple Cinnamon Waffles

Cinnamon Applesauce

Swedish Apple Pie with Cinnamon Cream Sauce

Speculaas Cookies

Do you have a favorite variety of cinnamon? Or a favorite way to enjoy it? Please share below!

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