Sunday, December 16, 2007

Apple #288: Cinnamon

For today's entry, I considered the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in New York City. But in doing a little searching around, I found an already excellent entry covering all the major facts I wanted to know about the tree: what kind is it, why does it always look so skinny, where do they get the trees, etc. For these answers and more, check out Steve Nix's guide to the Rockefeller Christmas Tree.

Also, this year, the lights aren't fluorescent bulbs but more efficient LEDs. And they're powered by 365 solar panels installed on a nearby skyscraper rooftop. When the tree is taken down after the first week of January, the wood will be used to build homes for Habitat for Humanity.

I couldn't find a photo of this year's Christmas tree, so here's a video of when it was first lit on November 28.

Anyway, since that topic has already been well-covered elsewhere, I needed to pick another subject. So I looked around and saw a mug of tea. My favorite tea right now includes several different herbs but what makes it especially tasty is the cinnamon (I prefer bags to loose tea, by the way).

So here's an Apple about cinnamon.

(Image from Leslie Beck, RN, Canada's Leading Nutritionist)

  • Cinnamon is originally from Sri Lanka, or what used to be called Ceylon.
  • The oldest known written reference to cinnamon is from -- you guessed it, regular readers -- China.
  • In the 16th and 17th centuries, cinnamon was so highly prized, European countries fought over ownership of Sri Lanka, just so they could export cinnamon.
  • By the early 1800s, though, people figured out they could grow cinnamon in other places such as the various islands in Indonesia and Malaysia. Once there was no longer a monopoly on cinnamon, the price dropped, and people stopped fighting over it -- for the most part.

Sri Lanka is shown in red on this map, but you can also see the other countries where most cinnamon is grown today, including Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and China.
(Map sourced from High Quality Organics)

  • Cinnamon is the inner bark of a cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum zeylanicum). It's an evergreen tree that grows best in almost pure sand.
  • The bark is harvested during the rainy season when it's moist and pliable, then allowed to dry into its familiar curling shape.
  • Most of the cinnamon sold in the United States actually comes from a different tree, called Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia). This tree is native to China, and it, too, is an evergreen, but its bark is coarser and darker, and its flavor is more pungent and less sweet.

Ceylon cinnamon on the left, Cassia cinnamon on the right. Similar, but not exactly the same.
(Images from Mrs. M. Grieve's

  • Though Cassia cinnamon is far more commonly available, Sri Lanka's cinnamon, or Ceylon cinnamon, is still considered the best because of its flavor, which some say is sweeter, or more "lively."
  • Ceylon cinnamon is made from only the inner bark, while Cassia cinnamon is made from the entire bark.

Ceylon cinnamon bark on the left, cassia cinnamon bark on the right.
(Images from Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages)

  • Cinnamon is one of the essential ingredients of the increasingly well-known Chinese five-powder spice.
  • Several Indian dishes that call for cinnamon actually use an entire roll of bark, or quill. The quill is put into hot oil and cooked until it uncurls, this releasing its fragrance and flavor. Then other ingredients are added to the dish. The cinnamon bark is typically removed, or else it is retained but only as a garnish.
  • If you have powdered cinnamon, though, use it quickly or else store it in the refrigerator. Once cinnamon is powdered, it loses lots of its essential oils and thus much of its flavor, and it deteriorates pretty quickly.
  • If you think you might be keeping it for a while, cinnamon sticks will actually stay preserved longer if you store them in an airtight container, and grind only what you need when you're about to use it.

In a jar is possibly the best way to store cinnamon for greatest longevity -- provided that cork makes a tight seal. And if you put the jar in the refrigerator, that would help, too.
(Image from SoftDental)

  • If you're not sure whether your cinnamon is still fresh, open the jar and take a good sniff or two. If it still smells sweet, it's good. If the sweetness is faint or not there at all, the spice won't do much for your food, either.
  • Two teaspoons of ground cinnamon* will give you more than 35% of your daily requirement of manganese.
  • You've got to have manganese to stay healthy, but you only need a little bit of it. Besides cinnamon, sources for manganese include whole grains, spinach, soy beans, nuts, olive oil, oysters, and tea.
  • There's another reason to make sure you don't go overboard with the cinnamon -- or in this case, I should say, cassia. Cassia cinnamon contains a compound called coumarin which can be toxic in high doses. Ceylon cinnamon has much lower levels of coumarin.
  • Cinnamon also contains a chemical called cinnamaldehyde.  Sounds like formaldehyde, doesn't it?  That's because they're chemically similar -- and similarly bad for you.  A little dusting of cinnamon on your French toast won't hurt you.  But a bunch of it at once will. (See below.)
  • Some people say cinnamon can aid in alleviating high blood pressure and that it can also reduce blood sugar, so it is considered to be helpful to people with diabetes. But please note that if you are going to use cinnamon as an herbal remedy, you'll be safer if you use the Ceylon cinnamon -- if you can find it.

You can make these cinnamon buns yourself with the recipe posted at Once Upon a Cakestand

*EDIT: You don't really want to eat a whole bunch of cinnamon at once because it can be toxic.  There's currently a fad called the Cinnamon Challenge which dares people to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon in 60 seconds without drinking water.  Mostly it's teen-agers who've tried it, but then, so has the governor of Illinois.

Here's why you DO NOT want to do this: people who have done this wind up calling poison control centers or else being rushed to emergency rooms because of the toxicity of so much cinnamon.  Some people have even shown up with collapsed lungs.

First, you get a terrible burning feeling in your nose and throat, you can't breathe.  Because your body knows better than you that that much of the stuff is toxic, you will gag.  You will next either spit the stuff out, or if you persist in swallowing it, you'll probably vomit (if you're lucky).  When you gag, you'll puff out a bunch of the powdered spice which you then may inhale by accident.  Once the cinnamon is in your lungs, its toxicity will go to work there, and you could wind up with an asthma attack or even scars on your lungs.  Scarring of the lungs is emphysema, folks. Same as what you get from smoking cigarettes over a long period of time.  Your lungs may even collapse.  Thus you could find yourself in the hospital with a collapsed lung, needing to be put on a ventilator.

Your body knows this is bad stuff.  Be at least as smart as your body and don't force it to do something it knows is a really bad idea.

If someone has swallowed a spoonful of cinnamon, call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

"LEDs will light up Rockefeller Christmas tree," AP Newswire posted at, November 21, 2007
Peggy Trowbridge Fillippone, Cinnamon History, Home Cooking
Recipe Zaar, Kitchen Dictionary, Cinnamon
Mrs. M. Grieve,, Cinnamon and Cassia (Cinnamon)
Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages, Ceylon Cinnamon, Cinnamon: The Truth About This Spice
The World's Healthiest Foods, Cinnamon, ground
Leslie Beck, RD, Healthy Cooking, Cinnamon -- December 2006's Featured Food
Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, ToxFAQs for Manganese
Lenntech, Health effects of Manganese

Consequences of the "Cinnamon Challenge," The New York Times, April 22, 2013
5 Reasons not to Take the Cinnamon Challenge, Forbes, April 23, 2013


  1. It's also supposedly goog for lowering cholesterol!

  2. Yeah, I saw lots of positive health claims for cinnamon, but most were from sources that I wouldn't necessarily consider reliable. So I didn't want to pass along those claims without further verification.

    But you're right, people do say that cinnamon helps lower cholesterol, too.

  3. The picture that you have posted is not Cinnamon. Please click the link under my name to learn how to identify real Cinnamon from Cassia.

  4. Thank you Cinnamon for the link, I have been fooled for so long thinking that I was using Cinnamon only to find out today that I have been actually eating a fake called Cassia.


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