Cinnamon is a commonly used spice with important health benefits. Cinnamon is a sweet spice with a mild aniseed flavor and is often associated with desserts and hot drinks. It can also be used in spicy dishes like curries or savory casseroles.
What Is Cinnamon?
Cinnamon is the dried bark of a small tree that originates from Sri Lanka. However, the cinnamon that is sold in shops is often actually cassia bark, being marketed as cinnamon. Real cinnamon is sometimes referred to a Ceylon cinnamon, and spices that are called Chinese cinnamon or Indonesian cinnamon are generally a different, though related species. Ceylon cinnamon is of a higher quality, being softer and sweeter than other types, but is also more expensive.
Cinnamon is sold in short, rolled up sticks of bark, called quills, and can be used whole in cooking to flavor the food (although in that case it is removed before eating). Cinnamon is also ground up to a powder that can be sprinkled into or over food and is often used as a garnish on coffees. Cinnamon is also used in the manufacturing process of chocolate and is a component of chai tea.
The Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Unfortunately, due to the fact that cassia is often marketed as true cinnamon, some of the studies done on cinnamon's effects may actually have used cassia. For example, a well known study linked the consumption of small amounts of cinnamon with a reduced incidence of diabetes, and stated that cinnamon can lower insulin resistance. It also showed that consuming cinnamon can lower blood cholesterol levels. However, it turns out that the spice used in this study was not pure cinnamon, but cassia mixed with cinnamon.
Cinnamon is often used as a remedy for tooth pain and may also help to sweeten breath. It has a reputation among herbalists as a treatment for diarrhea. Cinnamon is also high in antioxidant activity, which means it may help to fight cancers and other illnesses caused by free radicals. It has particularly been linked to reducing the rate of colon cancer. Cinnamon has also been shown to have a detrimental effect on the bacteria that causes stomach ulcers, although this has yet to be studied in human subjects.
Cautions about Cinnamon
People who have diabetes should not experiment with high doses of cinnamon without the supervision of a qualified doctor, particularly if they are taking any kind of medication. Similarly, cinnamon in high doses or in concentrated oil form may have an adverse effect on pregnant women, so they should not eat very large amounts (generally the amount added to food is not dangerous). Cassia bark contains coumarin, which is a compound associated with damage to the liver and kidneys and so should be eaten in moderation.
Cinnamon is a versatile and delicious spice, which is used in many common foods and recipes. It may have some important health benefits as well, particularly for diabetics. However, cinnamon can be potent in higher doses, so eating it in moderation to enjoy its better qualities is the best approach.