There are many different types of cinnamon, with different health effects. Many consumers are not aware that when a food product or supplement only labels "cinnamon," it's typically the cheapest type.
But what are the different types of cinnamon, and which is the healthiest? Are any types of cinnamon bad for you? What are the health benefits of cinnamon and risks of its use?
In this article we'll answer all of these questions and more as we review medical research on the different types of cinnamon. We'll explain which is the most common type, which is the type that's typically included when a product fails to list the specific type, and which is the healthiest type of cinnamon.
We'll also explain how one type of cinnamon is proven in medical research to be higher in toxins than other types.
What are the Different Types of Cinnamon?
Contrary to popular belief, there are actually five (not four) botanical species of the tree bark commonly referred to as cinnamon. They are as follows:
- Cinnamomum cassia
- Cinnamomum verum
- Cinnamomum burmannii
- Cinnamomum loureiroi
- Cinnamomum citriodorum
The last type, cinnamomum citriodorum, is the often forgotten type of cinnamon as it’s quite rare. It was identified as an endangered species more than 20 years ago by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and is certainly even more rare today.
What's the Most Common Type?
Cassia cinnamon is the type you typically see in the supermarket spice aisle, and is the type that consumers can assume is included when the specific type isn't listed.
Cassia is the cheapest and most widely available of the five types, so many manufacturers use it to reduce costs. It’s harvested from the bark of an evergreen tree common in Southern China, and ground into a powder.
Because a food company can charge higher prices with a more "exotic" cinnamon type like Ceylon, they would be incentivized to list the specific type on the bottle if it were not Cassia cinnamon (which is why you see "Ceylon Cinnamon" so boldly advertised in most cinnamon products containing it).
Is Cassia Cinnamon Toxic?
All types of cinnamon contain a compound called coumarin which is toxic to humans. But the coumarin level varies drastically by type of cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon is so high in coumarin that even regular intake of the spice in food doses is likely harmful. A medical review published in the the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal reported the following:
“1 kg of [cassia cinnamon] powder contains approximately 2.1-4.4 g of coumarin, which means 1 teaspoon of [cassia cinnamon] powder would contain around 5.8 - 12.1 mg of coumarin. This is above the Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) for coumarin...recommended by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).”
A 2013 medical review found that Cinnamomum loureiroi, also known as Saigon Cinnamon, contained "substantial amounts" of coumarin. As we documented more fully in our Saigon cinnamon vs Ceylon article, Ceylon has been shown to have insignificant coumarin levels.
We can conclude from the available research that Cassia cinnamon is the least healthy and most toxic type of cinnamon. Even the amount of Cassia cinnamon used for baking and during regular (non-supplemental) intake may be harmful to human health.
What are the Health Benefits of Cinnamon?
Cinnamon possesses health benefits, and the benefits are thought to come mostly from polyphenols like rutin which are included in all cinnamon types.
Cinnamon is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. It may also have favorable effects on blood sugar levels. As we documented in our Glucofort reviews article, cinnamon extract (a more concentrated form of the spice) has been clinically shown to reduce blood sugar levels by over 10%.
While all types of cinnamon have polyphenols, their concentration varies. A meta-study analyzed the species-specific phytochemical profiles and anti-diabetic properties of the different types of cinnamon (other than Cinnamomum citriodorum, which again is very hard even for researchers to obtain).
The study concluded that: “cinnamon demonstrates anti-hyperglycaemic properties, however effects are species-specific with best overall properties seen for Ceylon cinnamon.”
Cinnamon extract has not only been shown to lower blood sugar naturally, but is also proven in medical literature to normalize cholesterol. A meta-study published in the Annals of Family Medicine journal found that cinnamon reduced overall cholesterol levels, reduced LDL-C (considered "bad" cholesterol) and reduced triglycerides while raising HDL-C (the “good” cholesterol) levels.
Clearly cinnamon has a wide range of potential health benefits, and we believe that at moderate doses, even the cheapest form of cinnamon is likely to have more pros than cons.
A YouTube video from a popular health influencer named Dr. Axe goes into detail about some of the health benefits of cinnamon:
So Which Type is the Healthiest?
As documented in this article, Ceylon cinnamon is the richest in phytonutrients of all cinnamon types, and also has the lowest levels of toxins. We consider Ceylon to be the healthiest type of cinnamon.
Illuminate Labs sells a Ceylon Cinnamon Extract supplement that's third-party tested for purity, potency and label accuracy. We reviewed the clinical studies in this article prior to formulating our supplement, and they informed our decision to choose Ceylon out of all types of cinnamon. While Ceylon Cinnamon is typically more expensive than Cassia cinnamon, our supplement only costs $15 for a monthly subscription.
Interested consumers can check out Illuminate Labs Ceylon Cinnamon Extract Capsules at this link to our product page.
A Business Insider India video explains some of the harvesting practices for Ceylon cinnamon and why it's so expensive:
How Should I Use Cinnamon?
Cinnamon can be used as a spice added to food or taken as a dietary supplement.
Try adding cinnamon to a yogurt or to a morning latte (our capsules can be easily broken into food). Cinnamon also tastes great in more savory dishes like beef stew.
For consumers who plan to take Ceylon cinnamon for its health benefits, taking it as a dietary supplement in extract form is likely the most efficient, convenient and cost-effective way. Most cinnamon spice products use raw powder, while much of the medical research on Ceylon cinnamon involves extracts.