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True Cinnamon or Not?

Cinnamon is a flavor just about everyone recognizes, but did you know that’s  there’s more than one kind?  One’s true and one’s not though you can find both here in the States.   So how do you know  “what is and what ain’t”?

Remember “red-hots,” those bright red candies that sizzled your tongue?  In high school Home-Ec class we put them into  applesauce, which still puzzles me as it was neither a time- nor money-saver but it did give us a big hit of  that not-so-healthy red dye.  Red-hots are made with cassia oil from Cinnamomum aromaticum, a harsher, hotter variety known as Korintje, Chinese or Vietnamese cinnamon.  This is the cinnamon carried in grocery stores and used in most of the foods flavored with this fragrant delight.

True cinnamon, Cinnamomum verum and C. zeylanicum, originated in Ceylon, now known as Sri Lanka, though the flavor kept the original name.  Ceylon cinnamon has a more delicate flavor with a slightly citrus undernote and it adds a softer, sweeter taste to  foods and beverages.

Personally, I’m hooked on Ceylon cinnamon.

In Mexico and Central and South America, it’s known as canela.  It is often steeped as a tea and sweetened with honey or piloncillo.  Warming and satisfying, the first time I drank it was in the modest home of immigrant farm workers who were about to return to Mexico for the winter.  It was a cold, gray day, and I remember being surprised by how something so simple could taste so good.

Years later, I’m impressed by Ceylon cinnamon’s medicinal propertiesIt is a key ingredient in Chinese medicine as, among other things, it is high in antioxidants and has anti-microbial properties.  It is often used to heal respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.  It is also  used to help lower cholesterol.

Its most impressive quality is that it helps to regulate blood sugar! Mainstream doctors are taking notice of this and many recommend taking a capsule or 1/2 a teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon after meals to control blood sugar.

How do tell the difference between types of cinnamon? If you are purchasing it pre-ground  in the market, the variety will  be on the label.  Korintje (also called Indonesian) cinnamon is the cheapest and harshest variety.  The Vietnamese are again growing cassia and you’ll find it labeled “Vietnamese.”  Ceylon cinnamon may be a little more difficult to find.  It’s  sold in most Mexican markets and often in specialty food stores or online.

If you are buying it as quills (sticks), Ceylon cinnamon is softer and is loosely rounded.  Cassia is much harder and is tightly wound up.

One note of caution: Cassia contains coumarin; true cinnamon does not.  Coumarin is a blood thinner and for some people this can be dangerous.   Coumarin is also banned for inclusion in most products in the U.S.  Ceylon cinnamon may be a little more expensive but it’s worth it.

Add cinnamon to oatmeal in the morning and soups, sauces, fruit dishes and beverages throughout the day. 

For a real taste treat that you can enjoy in numerous ways, try Rain’s Choice Cinnamon Spice Vanilla Sugar. We only use Ceylon cinnamon in our sugars, so you are guaranteed that it’s the “real deal.”


Patricia Rain
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Patricia Rain

is an author, educator, culinary historian, and owner of The Vanilla Company (www.vanillaqueen.com), a socially conscious, product-driven information and education site dedicated to the promotion of pure, natural vanilla, and the support of vanilla farmers worldwide. She also does culinary presentations for food professionals, cooking schools, trade shows, food fairs, and private groups, and is a regular radio and TV guest.

Comments (0)

  • Penni Wisner


    I’ve read so much about the various cinnamons that I’d become quite confused and really appreciate your simple, commonsense advice. Plus the coumarin aspect is new to me. Good to know.


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