Ground cinnamon is the powdered bark of cinnamon trees (Cinnamomum). Most ground cinnamon is made from cassia cinnamon, which contains higher quantities of coumarin than Ceylon cinnamon. It is coumarin that gives cinnamon its bad reputation.
In the United States and Europe, cinnamon is mainly used in sweet dishes such as applesauce, compote, and fruit salads. You can use cinnamon to add flavor to rice pudding and cream of wheat. Christmas cakes, cookies, and pastries are also commonly flavored with ground cinnamon. Warm drinks like mulled wine, punch, and liqueur, on the other hand, tend to get their flavor from cinnamon sticks.
In some Asian countries, for example, Vietnam, it is common to season savory, spicy, and meaty dishes with cinnamon. Ground cinnamon is also a common component of spice blends that are added to fragrant rice dishes. In India, ground cinnamon is used to flavor curries and chutneys. You may also find cinnamon-flavored chewing gum; however, this is produced using artificial flavors, not ground cinnamon.
Cinnamon can develop a bitter aftertaste when it is cooked for a long time. This means that you should always add ground cinnamon to a dish right before serving it.
In the US and Europe, ground cinnamon is more commonly used in cooking than cinnamon sticks. Cinnamon sticks vary in quality; however in ground cinnamon there is no difference in taste. Ground cinnamon is often a mixture of Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum), cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia), and Indonesian cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii).
Ground cinnamon may also be adulterated with substances such as flours and bulking agents, for example, corn flour.
You can find vegan recipes with ground cinnamon at the bottom of the text or in the sidebar: “Recipes that have the most of this ingredient.”
Add one teaspoon ground cinnamon to hot water in a saucepan and heat the mixture to about 60 °C. Leave to cool briefly and then add honey (you can also use agave syrup or brown sugar). Let the sweetener dissolve and serve.
Ground cinnamon can be found in all major supermarkets such as Walmart, Whole Foods Markets, Kroger, and Safeway (United States); Extra Foods, Metro, and Freshmart (Canada); Asda, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, Aldi, and Lidl (Great Britain); Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, and Harris Farm (Australia). Cheap ground cinnamon tends to be mostly made of ground cassia cinnamon, with a small amount of Ceylon cinnamon, which is better quality but more expensive. Ground Ceylon cinnamon is less common in major supermarkets; try organic supermarkets, health food stores, or online shops.
You can buy cinnamon sticks from most major supermarkets. You may also be able to find cinnamon buds in delicatessens and specialty stores. Cinnamon buds are similar to cloves in appearance but taste like cinnamon sticks. The leaves from cinnamon trees are primarily found in areas where cinnamon is grown. They are used in a similar way to bay leaves.
Ceylon cinnamon trees (Cinnamomum verum) grow in the wild in Sri Lanka as well as in the southwest of India and in the Tenasserim mountains in Myanmar (Burma).
Ground cinnamon should be stored in an opaque, airtight container such as a small screw-top jar. Ground cinnamon will keep for a very long time and retain its smell and flavor when stored in a dark, dry, cool place. If your ground cinnamon has lost its aroma or has a bitter flavor, you should throw it away.
The nutritional information given here is taken from the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture). Unfortunately, the USDA does not specify the origin of the cinnamon, so we assume it is a mixture of different varieties of cinnamon.
Cinnamon has 247 calories per 100 g. It is predominantly made up of carbohydrates (81 %) and is also rich in dietary fiber (53 %). Cinnamon has little protein (4 %) and hardly any fat (1.2 %).2
Essential oils (1–4 %) can be obtained from cinnamon bark through steam distillation. Cinnamon bark additionally contains traces of cinnamaldehyde, eugenol, cinnamic alcohol, cinnamic acid, and other phenylpropanes as well as insecticidally active diterpenes, procyanidins, phenolic carboxylic acids, and mucilage.
Ceylon cinnamon contains high quantities of eugenol and little coumarin (0.004 % or 0.04 g/kg).19 It has a subtle, mild flavor. Cassia cinnamon, on the other hand, contains high quantities of coumarin (up to 1 % or 10 g/kg)3 and little to no eugenol. This is why cassia cinnamon tastes stronger and slightly sweet.3 You can find more information about coumarin under “Dangers — intolerances — side effects.”
Cinnamon also contains a number of healthy macro- and micronutrients. However, like all spices, we eat cinnamon in too small of quantities to receive much of a benefit from these nutrients.
Manganese is the most important trace element in cinnamon. At 17.5 mg/100 g, 5 g of cinnamon is equivalent to the recommended daily intake of manganese (1–1.5 mg).4 This is much more cinnamon than you would typically consume, but it nonetheless illustrates that spices can also contribute to your daily dose of nutrients. Other spices contain considerably more manganese: ground turmeric (19.8 mg/100 g), saffron (28.4/100 g), and cloves (60 mg/ 100 g).2
At 8.3 mg/100 g, iron is another important trace element that is found to a lesser extent in cinnamon. Many spices, herbs, and seeds contain high levels of iron, including dried thyme (123 mg/100 g) and pumpkin seeds (8.8 mg/100 g). Other foods that provide the body with easily digestible iron include grains (amaranth: 7.6 mg), legumes (lentils: 6.5 mg), and vegetables (spinach: 2.7 mg).2 According to the German Nutrition Society (DGE), the recommended daily dose of iron for an adult is 10 mg.4
Cinnamon contains a lot of calcium: 1000 mg/100 g. Calcium is important for bone stability and for keeping your teeth healthy. Green vegetables and herbs are excellent sources of calcium. For example, nettle leaves contain 481 mg/100 g and basil contains 177 mg/100 g. Nuts and seeds are also rich in calcium; sesame seeds, for example, contain 975 mg/100 g and almonds 269 mg/100 g.2
Cinnamon also contains potassium, magnesium, copper, and zinc.2 And it even contains traces of vitamins: vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin found mainly in green vegetables. Cinnamon contains 31 µg/100 g, which is similar to mung beans (33 µg/100 g). At 830 µg/100 g, Swiss chard has much more vitamin K.2
Vitamin E, a fat-soluble vitamin that acts as an antioxidant in the body, is found in small amounts in cinnamon (15 µg/100 g). Nuts, fruits, and vegetables are rich sources of vitamin E, such as almonds (25.6 mg/100 g), cabbage (2.3 mg), and mango (0.9 mg).2
Cinnamon can lower blood sugar, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, which makes it a popular food among diabetics.5 It is also said to have a positive effect on blood sugar levels in healthy people as it delays gastric emptying and encourages glucose to enter the bloodstream slowly.6
Cinnamon also makes your body feel warmer, thereby increasing the amount of energy your body uses. A healthy diet combined with regular cinnamon intake can stimulate a decrease in body fat.6
In vitro studies on Alzheimer’s disease have shown that cinnamon can block the abnormal build-up of proteins in and around brain cells, as well as break down these build-ups.7
Studies on cassia cinnamon show that the coumarin it contains shows antitumor activity. An aqueous solution of cassia cinnamon is believed to promote the cell death of cervical cancer cells.8
How harmful is cinnamon? Cassia cinnamon, Indonesian cinnamon, and Vietnamese cinnamon contain high proportions of coumarin, which can be harmful in excessive quantities. Foods that have been industrially prepared almost exclusively contain one of these types of cinnamon. To avoid coumarin, try to buy Ceylon cinnamon if possible.
Coumarin can cause severe headaches, vomiting, dizziness, and sleeplessness when eaten in large quantities. In extremely high doses, coumarin can cause central paralysis, respiratory arrest, and coma. Animal experiments have shown that excessive coumarin consumption causes liver and kidney damage and may contribute to cancer development. However, studies on human cells did not have these results.9,10
According to the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) and the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, the tolerable daily intake for coumarin is 0.1 mg/kg body weight. If a child eats 100 g of store-bought gingerbread, they will have consumed more than the tolerable daily intake of coumarin. Cinnamon found in packaged foods is almost exclusively cassia cinnamon from China, Indonesia, or Vietnam. Cinnamon capsules given to diabetics are also problematic.11
It should be noted that in the past synthetic coumarin could be used in unlimited quantities in medicines and to flavor foods and beverages. But there is now a maximum limit. We know that using normal amounts of spices containing coumarin has no negative effect on healthy people. Experiments on rats showed that damage only occurs after extreme overdose.
How much cinnamon should you eat per day? According to German authorities, half a teaspoonful of ground cinnamon per day (approx. 1.6 g) is safe for healthy people. The recommended upper limit of cassia cinnamon is 600 g per year.
Thanks to the nutrients it contains, cinnamon has astringent and stimulating effects and acts as a tonic for the stomach.12 Cinnamon water is used to alter the flavor of many mainstream medicines.
We do not recommended cinnamon as a medicinal plant during pregnancy or for stomach and intestinal ulcers. Some people have allergies to cinnamic aldehyde, particularly skin allergies and allergic rhinitis.
In traditional medicine, cinnamon drops have been used to counter heavy menstrual bleeding. Cinnamon and clove oil has also been used as a household remedy for toothaches.13
Cinnamon has been used since ancient times as a spice, incense, medicinal agent, and aphrodisiac.
The origin of the true cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) is in the tropical rainforests of Sri Lanka (formerly known as Ceylon).16 True cinnamon is called Ceylon cinnamon. Today, it is cultivated in many other tropical countries such as Madagascar and Zanzibar.14 Ceylon cinnamon bark is made up of several paper-thin layers. When rolled up, they form a stick. The quality of Ceylon cinnamon is measured by the unit Ekelle, which depends on factors like color and delicacy of the bark. The very best cinnamon has Ekelle 00000, while lower quality Ceylon cinnamon may be 0, I, or right down to V.15 The price mainly depends on the condition the cinnamon rolls are in.
Cassia cinnamon is a close relative of Ceylon cinnamon. The Cinnamomum cassia tree comes from Burma and South China and is a spice in its own right. It is much cheaper than Ceylon and of an inferior quality. Cassia bark was used four thousand years ago as incense and for embalming. In Europe, cassia bark was traded before Ceylon cinnamon was. The outside of cassia cinnamon is rough and dark gray. Its taste is coarser, duller, astringent, and somewhat bitter.
In the US and the Netherlands, Indonesian cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii) is often used in making processed foods. Indonesian cinnamon is most commonly found ground and is almost indistinguishable from other cinnamon species. Indonesian cinnamon bark is typically 1–3 mm thick, much thicker than Ceylon cinnamon. It usually curls inwards at both ends.
Saigon cinnamon (Cinnamomum loureirii or loureiroi) is a species of cassia cinnamon. The individual pieces are slightly smaller and thinner. You may see lichens growing on the outside of Saigon cinnamon. Saigon cinnamon was common in Eastern European until 1989. Today, it can hardly be found outside of Vietnam.
The cinnamon tree (Cinnamomum) is an evergreen tree that can reach a height of 5–6 m. Some wild cinnamon trees can grow up to 20 m high. Cinnamon trees are grown for two years and then coppiced (trunks cut down to near ground level) when harvested. The plants are cut into 3 m long rods, and the bark is obtained from these rods.12 There is large diversity within cinnamon species. Ceylon cinnamon has broad, leathery leaves, while cassia cinnamon can be identified by its narrow, larger leaves.16
Cinnamon trees are almost exclusively cultivated near bodies of water because they require large amounts of groundwater to grow.
Cassia cinnamon bark does not require fermentation. The bark is peeled off and used after it is dried. In contrast, Ceylon cinnamon bark is left to ferment for 24 hours.20
After harvesting, the branches are wrapped to undergo natural fermentation. This helps them to develop their flavor. To obtain high-quality Ceylon cinnamon, first the outer bark is cut off. The actual cinnamon bark is found under this. It is peeled off in thin layers and cut into 20–30 cm long pieces. Afterwards, several layers are laid on top of each other and rolled by hand. Cinnamon quills are made by drying the cinnamon for several days.22 When dried, it naturally curls up into quills.
There are some plants that taste a bit like cinnamon, but they are not of the Cinnamomum genus. The following plants are used as substitutes for cinnamon: white cinnamon (Canella winterana), winter’s bark (Drimys winteri), Cinnamodendron corticosum, clove bark (Dicypellium caryophyllaceum), and Massoy Bark (Cryptocarya massoia).23 Ecuadorian cinnamon (Ocotea quixos), and Aniba canelilla are also used as cinnamon substitutes.
Some species are called cinnamon but don’t have anything in common with the cinnamon plant, except perhaps color. These plants include cinnamon rose (Rosa majalis) and sugar apples, which are also known as cinnamon apples (Annona squamosa).
Cinnamon bark oil is distilled from the outer bark of the cinnamon tree. It is used for flavoring various products, for example, liqueur and perfume.
Ceylon cinnamon is also known as true cinnamon and Sri Lankan cinnamon. In addition, it is referred to by a variety of Latin names including Cinnamomum verum, Cinnamomum zeylanicum, Cinnamomum aromaticum, Cinnamomum barthii, Cinnamomum bengalese, Cinnamomum biafranum, Laurus cinnamomum, and Camphoria cinnamomum. Avocados (Persea americana) and Laurus nobilis (bay leaves) are other well-known plants in the Lauraceae (laurel) family.
Cassia cinnamon is also known as cassia, bastard cinnamon, and Chinese cinnamon. Cinnamon sticks are sometimes called cinnamon quills.