If you live in North America or Europe that jar of "cinnamon" in your cupboard is probably not truly cinnamon at all, but a very similar spice known as cassia or "bastard cinnamon."
True cinnamon is usually labeled "Ceylon cinnamon" and comes principally from Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, Brazil and the Caribbean. Cassia, on the other hand, is often designated as "Chinese cinnamon" or "Saigon cinnamon" and comes principally from Indonesia, China, Vietnam, Japan and Korea.
Cinnamon is one of the oldest spices and most popular spices, and has been used for millennia both for its flavoring and medicinal qualities. In ancient Egypt, it was used to fill body cavities of corpses as an embalming agent. In ancient Rome it was considered so valuable that the Emperor Nero burned a year's supply on his wife's funeral pyre as proof of his devotion to her.
Ceylon cinnamon is more expensive and more difficult to find in North American where most spices labeled cinnamon are actually the cheaper cassia. Sweeter, lighter and more refined than cassia, true cinnamon is most suitable to flavoring desserts rather than more robust, savory dishes which can handle the heavier cassia.
Besides flavor, the most important distinction between the two spices, however, is in their levels of coumarin, natural compound that acts as a blood thinner when ingested.
Cassia has much higher levels of coumarin than true cinnamon. Patients on blood thinners such as warfarin (trade name Coumadin) are often advised to limit their intake of cinnamon, but this generally applies to cassia more so than to real cinnamon.
Both types of cinnamon are excellent sources of the trace mineral manganese which is an important activator of enzymes essential to building healthy bones as well as other physiological processes, including carbohydrate and fat metabolism.
They are also both very good sources of dietary fiber, iron and calcium. The combination of calcium and fiber is thought to be helpful in reducing the risk of colon cancer and lowering cholesterol levels, and relieving constipation or diarrhea.
Here are six reasons to make sure you're getting your cinnamon every day:
1. Lowers blood sugar levels
Cinnamon has been shown to normalize blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics by improving the ability to respond to insulin. It does so in part by slowing the rate at which the stomach empties after eating as evidenced by a study in which people ate about a cup of rice pudding with and without about a teaspoon of cinnamon. Adding the cinnamon slowed the rate the stomach emptied from 37% to 34.5% and significantly slowed the rise in blood sugar levels. Even less than a half of a teaspoon a day reduces blood sugar levels in type 2 diabetics.