17 Nov 2023
A product of colonial exploitation. Cinnamon is native to Sri Lanka. Once valued higher than gold in Europe for its rarity and medicinal properties, it attracted many invasions during the 16th-18th centuries – first the Portuguese, The Dutch and then the British. European countries without direct access to the cinnamon trade tried to imitate, substitute, steal, smuggle, or transplant the ‘true’ product from Sri Lanka.
Made from dried tree bark. Cinnamon is made from the inner bark of the Sri Lankan cinnamon tree (‘Cinnamomum verum’). The spice is made by peeling the bark and drying it until it curls into rolls known as cinnamon sticks. It has a warm sweet flavour, giving rise to its name derived from the Greek for ‘sweet wood’.
True cinnamon? You might’ve heard about the two main types of cinnamon – ‘Ceylon’ or true cinnamon and ‘Cassia’ cinnamon, which is less expensive and commonly found in supermarkets. They come from different tree species and differ in their chemical composition. But the term ‘true’ is being debated as it reflects the historically contingent tastes of Europeans, rather than any botanical category. The cinnamon of Sri Lanka was valued for its supreme quality as a spice, but various other ‘Cinnamomum’ species are also used under the name ‘cinnamon’.
Beneficial compounds: Cinnamaldehyde is one of the main compounds isolated from the bark of cinnamon trees that makes it a powerful therapeutic spice, alongside eugenol, cinnamic acid, linalool and many polyphenols. Together, they give cinnamon health-promoting properties, including immune-modulating, antioxidant and vasodilating.
Disease prevention: In human studies, cinnamon intake has been linked to:
In daily life: Up to 1.5 grams per day – less than a teaspoon – was sufficient for beneficial health effects.
Is cinnamon toxic? There have been concerns about ‘Cassia’ cinnamon because it contains higher amounts of coumarin, which can be harmful to the liver in prolonged high doses or in people with liver disease. For most people, eating it as a spice doesn’t exceed safe levels, according to a UK survey. However, if you’re taking supplements, ‘Ceylon’ cinnamon may be a better option.
Our favourite ways to enjoy cinnamon
4 recipes to try