Cinnamon is a very widely used spice that comes from the bark of a tree in the Lauraceae family. The tree is native to Sri Lanka and southern India. Indonesia is now the main supplier of cinnamon to the world.
The inner bark of the tree is used to produce cinnamon. The drying process causes the bark to curl into rolls and these are cut into lengths of 5-10 cm for sale. You can buy cinnamon in these short “sticks” or in powdered form.
There is a similar spice called cassia that is also made from the bark of a tree. It is hard and woody, compared to cinnamon. Whereas cinnamon is fine and crumbly, cassia is coarser and stronger. This difference is easy to spot when buying the “sticks” but is more difficult when buying powdered spice – grinding cinnamon in a coffee grinder is easy but cassia is a lot tougher.
Cassia is often labelled and sold as cinnamon.
Why does this matter? Because cassia contains a toxin called coumarin. Coumarin is also contained in cinnamon but in much lower concentrations. Coumarin is known to cause liver and kidney damage when consumed in high concentrations.
Cinnamon has been credited with helping in the treatment of type II diabetes. But the plant used in the study was actually cassia. There are lots of articles on this study – check out this article that mentions additional benefits of lowered blood fats and “bad” cholesterol.
But the main reason we use cinnamon is as a spice. Cinnamon is widely used in cooking and can be used with sweet (such as apple pie) and savoury dishes (such as curries). You can buy cinnamon in lots of grocery stores and most supermarkets. When you next have a cappuccino, ask for cinnamon instead of chocolate as the topping – it tastes great.
You’ll find lots of recipes that use cinnamon and a well-stocked kitchen usually has cinnamon in either powder or “stick” form.