Spicy, tangy and a little bit sweet - the unique aroma of cinnamon accompanies us especially during the winter season. Cinnamon is not only one of the oldest spices, but was used in ancient times because of its healing properties and embalming. But did you know tjat cinnamon can also harm your health?
Here are both the health benefits and disadvantages of cinnamon.
Cinnamon - an exotic spice
Cinnamon is widely used in biscuits, mulled wine and punch: the unmistakable taste and scent of cinnamon is pleasing especially through the winter. There’s something warming in it, a touch of exoticism, even a “pinch” of adventure. It used to be a sign of exclusivity and power, if one could afford it. But today cinnamon is affordable for low price
We now know that it does not grow on the bottom of lakes (as Herodotus still believed in 450 BC), nor, as propagated in Arabia, is collected by birds in their nests, which are shot down by brave hunters with bows and arrows. Even the medieval fantasy that cinnamon is washed straight from paradise into the waters of the Nile, where it is captured by diligent fishermen, is today replaced by the knowledge of from where it originates. Nevertheless, the beguiling scent and incomparable taste still have something magical, arousing the idea of wealth and “the unexplored.”
The cinnamon plant
What we put as spice on our gingerbread is nothing but tree bark. Of course, this must be obtained in a special way. There are two types of cinnamon trees: Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), which is also called Caneel and v.a. from Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon), and the cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia), which is originally grown in China, today also in Vietnam, Indonesia and Sumatra. Ceylon cinnamon is more fragrant and sweet, cassia cinnamon has more of a strong, sharper taste.
The extraction of Ceylon cinnamon requires some work: Since tender root shoots are peeled off the bark, the trees are kept short by constant knocking and rhizomes stimulated to bring out new offshoots all the time.
The cassia cinnamon tree, on the other hand, may grow out, and it is harvested after four years for the first time. To get to the delicate, only millimeter thick inside of the bark, the outer and middle bark are removed; the inner bark is peeled, rolled up and dried.
Worth knowing about cinnamon:
• species: Cinnamomum verum, Cinnamomum cassia (+ more 350)
• Genus: Cinnamomum
• Family: Laurel Family (Lauraceae)
• Order: Laurel-like (Laurales)
Subclass: Magnolia-like (Magnoliidae)
• Class: single-pollen-dicotyledonous (Magnoliopsida)
• Department: Bedecktsamer (Magnoliophyta)
By the way: The camphor tree (Cinnamomum camphora), which is known for its essential oil in common cold balms, belongs to the genus of cinnamon plants.
What can cinnamon do?
Cinnamon: use and ingredients
Cinnamon bark serves primarily as a spice, but also as a flavor and remedy. Thus, it comes in the form of rolls, powder, as an oil or in the form of other extracts ("oleoresin") , and is mixed in liqueur and bitters, toothpaste, chewing gum, cosmetics and perfumes.
The cinnamon bark contains cinnamon aldehyde (65-75%) and eugenol (about 5%), as well as volatile essential oil (0.5-2.5%). In addition, in small quantities numerous other substances such as alcohols, mucilage, starch, tannins, methylhydroxy-chalcone polymer (MHCP) and phenylpropanoids (safrole, coumarin).
The effects of cinnamon
Since time immemorial cinnamon is known to have beneficial properties. Salomon sprinkled his camp with myrrh, aloe and cinnamon to spice up the night of love. In the Persian region ointments with cinnamon and honey were used to strengthen the desire and virility.
But also in folk medicine cinnamon has its permanent place. It is said to have a disinfecting and antispasmodic, circulation-promoting, soothing and mood-enhancing effect. Cinnamon is traditionally used primarily for loss of appetite and indigestion such as flatulence and diarrhea, but also for inflammation, rheumatism and low back pain.
In Ayurveda, cinnamon has a high priority - so it is recommended both in the diet and for treating certain disorders (for example menopausal symptoms). Also in traditional Chinese medicine it is used as a remedy, for example, in cold weather, to relieve tension and circulatory insufficiency. In addition, cinnamon is also used in aromatherapy mainly because of its strengthening, warming, inspiring and creativity stimulating effect.
Cinnamon has disinfecting properties
Cinnamon is known to have disinfecting properties. Eugenol, which is highly concentrated in the cinnamon leaves (and smells of cloves) is used in dentistry as analgesic and antibacterial agent. In addition, it has the ability to combat insects.
Some studies show that cinnamon, with its ingredient MHCP, has an insulin-like effect and can lower blood sugar levels. There were also positive effects on blood lipid levels. However, this effect is not enough to treat diabetes.
Cinnamon – the negative effects
Cinnamon in pregnancy
It has been known for some time that cinnamon can cause allergies in sensitive people. Interestingly, the consumption of cinnamon can lead to allergic reactions even in people who are allergic to herbal pollen (for example, mugwort) (so-called cross-allergies). In pregnancy, cinnamon should be consumed with caution - its oil can cause contractions.
When does cinnamon have a harmful effect?
For some years, it has been known that phenylpropanoids (especially coumarin, but also safrol), which are naturally present in cinnamon, can be harmful to health. Coumarin, in particular, can in high concentrations cause liver inflammation and complications.
While coumarin is common in Cassia cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon is not critical. Although some studies have found a carcinogenic effect of coumarin in animals, this result could not be confirmed for humans.
Maximum values for coumarin
Due to the disease-causing property, the trade of cinnamon biscuits and cookies has been limited in the last few years. For ground cinnamon or cinnamon sticks, however, no coumarin limit is given. According to the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), the daily dose of coumarin is considered to be exceeded if a 60-kilogram adult consumes two grams of cassia cinnamon or more than six milligrams of coumarin daily. This quantity can be reached with products heavily loaded with cinnamon (three cinnamon stars), warns the BfR.
According to the institute, the limit for a 15-kilogram child is 0.5 grams of cassia cinnamon. That's about 100 grams of gingerbread a day.
Challenges for consumers
However, studies show again and again that the limits values are often exceeded in cinnamon-containing foods. In part, this is because readymade products almost always use the much cheaper Cassia cinnamon, which has a much higher coumarin concentration than Ceylon cinnamon.
Since manufacturers are not obliged to indicate the cinnamon type used, it is difficult for a consumer to determine whether cinnamon consumption remains below the permitted limit of 0.1 mg per kilogram of body weight a day, including foods such as muesli or cola cinnamon, and absorption through the skin (for example, soap).
Cinnamon: enjoyment only in certain quantities
This limit is quickly reached, especially for children - the federal government and the Länder, for example, recommend that children do not exceed:
• 4 cinnamon cookies ( 5,6 grams)or
• 1 gingerbread (30 grams) or
Rice pudding with cinnamon and sugar 200 grams or
• 2 cereal bars (35 grams) or
• Ready-made cereal (75 grams)