Cinnamon sticks, also known as cinnamon quills, are used to flavor a wide variety of foods. There are two main types of cinnamon: cassia and Ceylon cinnamon. They have a different origin and nutrients.
In the US and Europe, cinnamon sticks are mainly used in sweet dishes such as applesauce, compote, and fruit salads. Cinnamon sticks are used like ground cinnamon. You can use cinnamon to add flavor to dessert casseroles and semolina porridge. In Germany, red cabbage is often boiled with cinnamon sticks for extra flavor. Warm drinks like mulled wine, punch, tea, and liqueur taste great when you add cinnamon. A cinnamon stick can also give chai tea and coffee a special kick of flavor.
Cinnamon sticks are also important in Middle Eastern cuisine, where they are added to hearty and spicy dishes as well as meat dishes.
Cinnamon sticks can be cooked whole and removed before eating, or you can grate the cinnamon over the dish before serving. Cassia cinnamon and Indonesian cinnamon (Cinnamomum burmannii) have thicker rinds and can give off a bitter flavor when cooked.
Ingredients: 4 tablespoons coriander seeds, 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, 2 tablespoons black peppercorns, 12 cardamom seeds, 1 heaped teaspoon cloves, 3 sticks cinnamon, 10 curry leaves, 10 sticks lemongrass, 1 tablespoon uncooked rice, 1 tablespoon mustard seeds.
Grind all ingredients in a coffee grinder or spice grinder. The curry powder is strong and spicy. If you want to make it even spicier, you can add chili powder.
Pour boiling water over 1 teaspoon of cinnamon bark and let steep for about 10 minutes. Then remove the cinnamon bark from the tea and let the tea cool. To avoid having too many small pieces of cinnamon in the tea, you can use a strainer or a tea bag.1
You can buy cinnamon sticks from all major supermarkets, including 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). Cassia cinnamon is the most common type of cinnamon. If you are looking for Ceylon cinnamon, which is higher quality and more expensive, you should look in specialist supermarkets, health food stores, organic supermarkets, and reputable online retailers. If the packaging does not say what kind of cinnamon it is and it comes from Sri Lanka, then it is Ceylon cinnamon. We recommend buying fair trade cinnamon to support higher wages for local farmers throughout the world.
You can recognize Ceylon cinnamon by its tannish brown color and thin, flaky layers. The sticks are rarely rolled up at both ends and they look more like cigars. Cassia cinnamon is the more common, cheaper type of cinnamon stick, coming from China or Indonesia. It is thicker than Ceylon cinnamon and almost always curls up at both ends.
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).
To preserve their flavor as best as possible, cinnamon sticks should always be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dry, dark place. Ceylon cinnamon can retain its flavor for a long time.
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, procyanidines, phenolic carboxylic acids, and mucilage.
Ceylon cinnamon contains high quantities of eugenol and little coumarin (0.004 % or 0.04 g/kg).3 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. 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; for example, sesame seeds contain 975 mg/100 g and almonds 269 mg/100 g.2
Cinnamon 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 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
Since ancient times, cinnamon bark has been used to treat coughs, colds, and stomach ailments.5 Cinnamon might also increase blood flow, soothe menstrual cramps, and have diuretic and laxative effects. Both cinnamon oil and cinnamon bark promote antimicrobial activity, thanks to the cinnamaldehyde that they contain.6
Cinnamon can lower blood sugar, LDL cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, which makes it a popular food among diabetics.7 Cinnamon 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.8
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.8
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.9
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.10 This finding contradicts the dangers discussed below, which have been scientifically proven.
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 causes central paralysis, respiratory arrest, and coma. Animal experiments have shown that excessive coumarin consumption causes liver and kidney damage and suspected cancer development. However, studies on human cells did not have these results.11,12
According to the European Food Safety Authority (ESFA) and the Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (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.13
It should be noted that in the past synthetic coumarin could be used in unlimited quantities in medicines and to flavor foods and beverages. That is why there is now a maxiumum 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.
Cinnamon bark (Cinnamomi cortex) is used as a medicinal plant. It can stimulate your appetite and help with digestion, and is therefore often used as tea to relieve an upset stomach. Chinese cinnamon is made into tinctures to help with digestive problems like feeling full, flatulence, loss of appetite, and cramps.14
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.
Cinnamon essential oil can be extracted from the leaves or bark of cinnamon trees through steam distillation. Cinnamon oils may irritate the skin and are not recommended during pregnancy. However, they promote contractions and may be useful for giving birth. Cinnamon oil contains cinnamaldehyde, which has beneficial effects on the synthesis of progesterone.15
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.1
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.17
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.18 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.16,19 There is large diversity within cinnamon species. Ceylon cinnamon has broad, leathery leaves, while cassia cinnamon can be identified by its narrow, larger leaves.20
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.21 The branches are wrapped after harvesting 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, 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. It is also 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.
Cassia cinnamon is also known as cassia, Bastard cinnamon, and Chinese cinnamon. Cinnamon sticks are sometimes called cinnamon quills.