Cinnamon is one of those spices that go well in just about every type of food! It’s added to your desserts, your main dishes, and even your drinks, thanks to its tangy flavor and its ability to enhance the taste of every food it’s added to. But are you cooking with Ceylon or cassia cinnamon? Most people have no idea what the difference between cassia and ceylon cinnamon is, but the distinction MUST be made. Both cinnamon and cassia come from the same plant family, but not the same plant.
Ceylon Vs. Cassia
Cinnamon–the real deal–comes from the plant Cinnamomum zeylanicum, also known as the Cinnamomum verum plant. If you looked at the name of this plant, you’ll see that it means “true cinnamon”. This is the Ceylon cinnamon that everyone knows as “cinnamon”.
Cassia, on the other hand, comes from a cinnamon plant known as the Cinnamomum cassia or the Cinnamomum burmannii. The former produces “Chinese” or “Saigon cinnamon”, while the latter produces “Padang cassia” or “Java cinnamon”. None of these types of cinnamon are “true” cinnamon, and only the stuff that comes from the Cinnamomum verum is considered the real deal.
The two plants share many of the same characteristics, and they offer many of the same health benefits as well. For example, cinnamon is known to regulate blood sugar levels, and cassia offers the same control over blood glucose. Both cinnamon and cassia are potent antibacterials.
The Main Difference – Coumarin Content
Both cinnamon and cassia contain a plant compound called coumarin. When consumed in large quantities, coumarin can be toxic, affecting the nervous system and the liver. Cassia contains higher traces of this compound (around 4%), while the amount of coumarin in ceylon cinnamon is only around 0.04%.
Consuming large quantities of cassia could lead to a wide range of health problems, while consuming ceylon is fairly safe.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) established a tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.1 mg/kg body weight according to this University of Mississippi study of April 2013. The chart below shows an extract of these findings.
|Type of Cinnamon||Coumarin Content|
|Ceylon Cinnamon, True Cinnamon. Mexican Cinnamon||0.017 g/kg|
|Indonesian Cinnamon, Korintje Cinnamon, Padang Cassia||2.15 g/kg|
|Saigon cinnamon, Vietnamese cassia. Vietnamese cinnamon||6.97 g/kg|
|Cassia Cinnamon or Chinese Cinnamon||0.31 g/kg|
But How Can You Tell Them Apart?
The sad truth is that ground cinnamon could be either Ceylon or cassia cinnamon. The differences between Ceylon and cassia cinnamon are not visible when they are ground into powder.
Both types of cinnamon look exactly the same, so that powdered cinnamon you’re sprinkling into your food could very well contain cassia. Unless you buy from a company that specifically only sells Ceylon cinnamon.
If you want to be certain you’re actually getting Ceylon cinnamon and not cassia, it’s best to buy the cinnamon sticks instead of ground cinnamon.
Cassia cinnamon sticks look like one solid layer of bark, while Ceylon cinnamon sticks will have multiple layers of bark visible.
That’s the best way to tell the two apart, so it’s smart to check your cinnamon sticks before you buy them. Once you know that you’ve actually purchased cinnamon and not cassia, you can grind up the sticks yourself to make cinnamon powder–the real deal that is safe!
The good news is that using both cinnamon and cassia should be fairly safe if you are adding them into your food in normal amounts.
Cassia cinnamon shouldn’t cause any problems if you are just sprinkling it into your porridge, using it to make tea, or spicing up your dishes.
If, however, you consume large quantities of cinnamon (as so many in Asia do), you would do well to find Ceylon cinnamon instead of cassia.
It’s much safer, and the risk of health problems is much lower. True cinnamon has the same flavor as cassia, but it’s much lower in coumarin and thus much less likely to be toxic!