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Which plant is the source of the cinnamon that's usually sold in the grocery store as a spice?
There is a fair bit of confusion about culinary cinnamon. According to Edible: An Illustrated Guide to the World's Food Plants (National Geographic, 2008), the more common source of grocery store-bought cinnamon is Cinnamomum aromaticum, which is also known as cassia or Chinese cinnamon (and should not be further confused with plants in the genus Cassia!). You might also come across Indonesian cinnamon, which is Cinnamomum burmannii. 'True' cinnamon which you might find in a specialty store is Cinnamomum verum (formerly known as Cinnamomum zeylanicum), a species which is native to Sri Lanka and India. It is usually somewhat lighter in color, with a more subtle flavor. To compare and contrast these three different species, see the U.S. Department of Agriculture's taxonomy pages for Cinnamomum verum, Cinnamomum aromaticum, and Cinnamomum burmannii.
Medicinal use of cinnamon is currently being touted as beneficial for various ailments. It is important first and foremost to consult a medical professional before taking any supplement, but second to understand which species of cinnamon is being referred to, as they have different properties. The article "Little Bit of Spice for Health, but Which One?" by Laura Johannes in the Wall Street Journal discusses this. Here is an excerpt:
"A recent meta-analysis found cinnamon can lower blood sugar and cholesterol in humans, but so far evidence that it eases arthritis is limited to animal data. For health benefits, cassia cinnamon, which is typically sold in supermarkets, has been more widely studied than Ceylon cinnamon. But scientists say Ceylon cinnamon is likely safer in very high doses than supermarket cinnamon. (....)
"A study published earlier this year in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry tested cinnamon commercially available in the U.S. and found 'substantial amounts' of coumarin, a naturally occurring organic compound that can cause liver damage if consumed in excess. The study found only trace amounts of coumarin in Ceylon cinnamon.
"'From a safety point of view, Ceylon cinnamon is better,' says study author Ikhlas A. Khan, assistant director for the National Center for Natural Products Research at the University of Mississippi's School of Pharmacy in Oxford, Miss. Not everyone is biologically susceptible to the liver damage, he says, adding that cinnamon 'in moderation' is safe for everyone."
An excellent web resource for all things spice-related is Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages.
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January 13 2017 10:35:53