In this article we’re going to examine the scientific literature on cinnamon to determine which variety is the healthiest for human consumption, and whether any specific type may actually be harmful. All types of cinnamon have antioxidant properties, but their toxic load varies substantially.
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 in food product/supplement formulations when the label only states “cinnamon.” It’s 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.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Cinnamon is a potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, especially in extract form. Its polyphenols, namely rutin, catechin, quercetin, kaempferol and isorhamnetin are responsible for most of its health-promoting effects. All types of cinnamon have polyphenols, but their content varies. This 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 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 (made by concentrating the bark from its raw material form) has not only been proven to lower blood sugar naturally, but is also proven in medical literature to normalize cholesterol. This meta-study on the medicinal use of cinnamon in type-2 diabetics found that cinnamon reduced cholesterol levels, reduced LDL-C and reduced triglycerides while raising HDL-C (the “good” cholesterol) levels.
How to Use Cinnamon
Generally, cinnamon can be used as a spice for overall health promotion. Using raw cinnamon in food is the way humans have consumed cinnamon for thousands of years, and is the best approach for people who are already healthy.
Try adding cinnamon to a yogurt or to a morning latte. It also tastes great in more savory dishes like beef stew.
People who are looking to use cinnamon medicinally should speak with their doctor about using a standardized cinnamon extract. An extract is a concentrated form of a raw botanical compound, with a higher concentration of the health-promoting phytochemicals. Most of the medical research on cinnamon to treat health conditions such as diabetes or high cholesterol involves an extract.
Toxins in Cinnamon
The main reason why Ceylon cinnamon, colloquially known as “true cinnamon” is considered the healthiest type is because it has essentially zero toxins. All forms of cinnamon contain a compound called coumarin which is toxic to humans. But the levels vary drastically. Cassia cinnamon is so high in coumarin that even regular intake of the spice in moderate doses is likely harmful. A published scientific study from the BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine Journal found 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 of 0.1 mg/kg body weight/day recommended by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).”
Another study found that Cinnamomum Loureiroi, also known as Saigon Cinnamon, contained "substantial amounts" of coumarin, which is partly why we concluded that Ceylon was superior in our Ceylon Vs. Saigon breakdown article.
In contrast, the study found ceylon cinnamon to contain “hardly any” coumarin. In the study it refers to ceylon cinnamon (cinnamomum verum) as cinnamomum zeylanicum, but these are actually two scientific terms for the same type of cinnamon. This research paper on cinnamon has a great explanation for the variance in name: “The first one is Cinnamomum verum, translation ‘true cinnamon’. It is also called Sri Lankan or Ceylon cinnamon. Sri Lanka is the only regular supplier of true cinnamon bark and leaf oils. C. Verum’s older botanical name, Cinnamomum zeylancium, is derived from Sri Lanka’s older name, Ceylon.”