One of the oldest spices used around the world for centuries is cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum).
The name ‘cinnamon’ has origins in the Phoenician language.
It was used in ancient Egypt as embalming, medicinal and flavoring agent.
In some cultures, it possessed more value than gold.
The popularity of cinnamon continued and spread to China, rest of Asia and throughout Europe.
Cinnamon is actually the inner bark of the evergreen cinnamon tree.
It is available as sticks or powder. Cinnamon sticks come in a rolled tubular form called quills.
It was one of the first trading commodities between Europe and the Near East and the route taken by the traders was even referred to as the ‘Spice Route’.
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Where is it Grown?
There are about 100 varieties of cinnamon, but there are 2 varieties which are usually consumed.
The first is Cinnamomum zeylanicum or Ceylon cinnamon which is produced in India, Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Caribbean and Brazil.
The other is Cinnamomum aromaticum or Chinese cinnamon (cassia) that grows in China, Indonesia and Vietnam.
While both have an almost similar fragrant, warm and sweet flavor, Ceylon cinnamon is called the ‘true cinnamon’ with a more subtle and refined flavor.
Cassia or Chinese cinnamon is the less expensive variety and found widely in North America.
Of these various countries were cinnamon plants are cultivated, Sri Lanka accounts for 80-90% of the world’s supply of cinnamomum verum with Seychelles and Madagascar also cultivating it commercially.
Indonesia is the largest producer of the Cassia variety followed by China.
Vietnam and India produce smaller quantities of this variety.
The Cinnamon Plant
The cinnamon tree is allowed to grow for two years after which it is coppiced.
Coppicing is a process by which young tree trunks are repeatedly trimmed right down to ground level.
The young shoots will emerge and the tree grows again. The branches thus cut are processed removing the outer bark and then beating the branches repeatedly to remove the inner bark.
The inner bark comes out in thin rolls and these are the cinnamon quills. They are dried completely and sold.
The bark must be dried soon after harvesting and a well-ventilated hot environment used for this.
Otherwise, pests will attack the bark and will need to be fumigated. This will not be premium quality cinnamon.
Nowadays mechanical devices for harvesting and processing are used to preserve the quality of the bark.
Chemical Composition of Cinnamon
The flavor, aroma and other medicinal uses of cinnamon are derived from cinnamon oil that is got from the bark.
Cinnamon oil comprises of various active compounds – cinnamaldehyde or cinnamic aldehyde, cinnamyl alcohol and cinnamyl acetate.
There are other volatile substances also found in cinnamon oil. Of these cinnamaldehyde forms the major portion of the oil (65-75%).
Cinnamaldehyde or 3-phenylprop-2-enal (IUPAC name) has the chemical symbol C9H80. This is a yellow, oily liquid with a boiling point of 2460 C.
Cinnamaldehyde is got by passing cinnamon bark through a steam distillation process.
Eugenol is another chemical compound which makes up about 10% of the cinnamon bark.
Eugenol has the chemical symbol C10H12O2.
According to USDA, 10g ground cinnamon contains –
- Energy - 24.7kcal
- Fat - 0.12g
- Carbohydrates - 8.06g
- Fibers – 5.31g
- Sugars – 0.2g
- Protein – 0.4g
Cinnamon Nutrition Facts
The following is the nutrition facts for 1 tbsp (serving size 7g) of ground Cassia Cinnamon.
- Calories 19
- Calories from fat - 1
- Total fat – 0g (0% DV)
- Cholesterol – 0mg
- Sodium – 1mg
- Total Carbohydrate – 6g
- Dietary fiber – 4g (16% DV)
- Sugars – 0g
- Protein – 0g
- Calcium – 8%
- Iron – 4%
DV refers to percent daily value which is based on a diet of 2000 calories.
According to ‘Nutrition Data’ this product has a star rating of 4/5 for weight loss and 4 1/2 / 5 for optimal health.
It offers a good source of iron and vitamin K and a very good source of calcium, manganese and dietary fiber.
The ‘Food Healthiest Food Rating System Chart’ highlights the important nutrients in a product and if a particular product is a good, very good or excellent source of these nutrients. Here we see the rating for nutrients in cinnamon.
In 2 tsp cinnamon (approximately 5.20g) we get:
- Manganese – 0.91g, 45.5% Daily value, 63.8 nutrient density, ‘Excellent’ rating
- Fiber – 2.76g; 11.0% DV; 15.5 nutrient density; ‘Excellent’ rating
- Calcium – 52.10mg; 5.2% DV; 7.3 nutrient density; ‘Very Good’ Rating
Apart from the above nutrients, cinnamon also contains trace amounts of many other vitamins, minerals, and sugars such as vitamin B1, B2, B3, B6, B12, vitamin C, vitamin D, monosaccharide, phosphorous, zinc, potassium, selenium, choline, lycopene and more.
Nutritional value of Cinnamon
Let us look at some of the important nutrients found in cinnamon and their nutritional benefits.
Cinnamon is said to be a very good source of calcium. Calcium is one of the best-known minerals.
It is said to promote bone health, control or prevent high blood pressure, reduce symptoms of PMS and help in preventing certain cancers.
It is used to control levels of potassium, magnesium and phosphorous in the blood.
Woman of all ages requires adequate doses of calcium.
We can get calcium naturally from dairy products, certain vegetables, and fruits and from using cinnamon regularly in food.
Excess calcium could cause bloating, constipation, kidney stones, and gas or increased risk of heart problems.
Manganese found in cinnamon could promote healthy bone structure.
It has antioxidant properties and could protect the immune system and help it to fight off free radicals in the body.
Manganese can also control blood sugar levels, prevent epileptic seizures and help with the metabolism of various vitamins like vitamin B1 and E.
It is a well-known remedy for inflammatory conditions, sprains, and strains.
Manganese can alleviate PMS and prevent osteoporosis. It also helps maintain a healthy digestive and nervous system.
Excess manganese could cause tremors. Those who have liver disease or iron deficiency must be careful of their manganese intake.
Iron is one of the most important minerals needed by humans and cinnamon is a good source for this.
It improves the supply of oxygen in the body and is vital for muscle health and brain function. Iron deficiency causes restless leg syndrome.
Iron helps regulate body temperature, helps with the synthesis of neurotransmitters, is used as a treatment for different causes of anemia, eradicates fatigue, promotes energy, and maintains a healthy immune and enzyme system.
Normal doses of iron are safe.
Excess could cause diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and nausea.
The side effects also depend on the type of iron supplement being consumed. Very high doses could cause serious health problems like heart disease, liver failure, intestinal distress, etc.
According to the ‘Food Healthiest Food Rating System Chart’, cinnamon is an excellent source of dietary fiber.
Hence consuming this spice could offer the health benefits of fiber.
Fiber is said to prevent indigestion and constipation by helping with digestion of food.
It can promote heart health, prevent certain cancers like colon, ovarian and breast cancer, help to maintain normal blood sugar levels and help to flush out toxins quickly from the body.
Foods rich in fiber promote weight loss since we feel full for longer and reduce our food intake.
Fibers do not cause too many serious side effects. Those taking supplements with fiber must consult their doctor for it could cause intestinal blockage.
Vitamin K has an important role in the clotting of blood.
It can reverse the effects which blood-thinning medications have.
It is also used to treat skin conditions caused by biliary cirrhosis, rosacea, stretch marks, bruises, burns, and even osteoporosis.
Vitamin K could be used to treat bleeding disorders, excess menstrual flow, menstrual pain, hemorrhage in babies, and regulate blood sugar, biliary obtrusion and more.
Pregnant and breastfeeding women, those with liver and kidney disease must exercise caution when taking vitamin K.
Otherwise, it does not cause any side effects unless taken in excess.
The appropriate cassia cinnamon dosage depends on the age and health conditions of the user. The usual dose of ground cinnamon is 1 – 1.5g daily.
Cinnamon supplements are likely safe when taken in dosages of not more than 6g a day.
The common amounts found in food are likely safe for most people.
Precautions with Cinnamon
Cinnamon is safe for most people to use.
Excess exposure of the skin to cinnamon could cause allergic reactions.
Be careful when choosing and storing cinnamon for it could get contaminated by microorganisms if not stored hygienically.
Some people who use cinnamon toothpaste, cinnamon gum, and mints or apply cinnamon lotions or creams could experience inflammation of the lips, mouth, develop sores or gum disease.
This could be due to the presence of cinnamaldehyde in cinnamon.
Those taking dietary and nutritional supplements antibiotics, anticoagulants, antifungal medication, antiviral drugs, etc must consult their doctor before taking cinnamon which could react adversely with them.