Marshmallows in hot chocolate, topped with whipped cream and sprinkled with cinnamon.
Oooh, sounds like a match made in food heaven, specially during the holiday season.
The icing on the cake? Well, the cinnamon in our beloved hot cocoas offers tons of health benefits such as antioxidants which have anti-inflammatory effects to help lower your risk of disease, the ability to improve some key risk factors for heart disease, including cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure, reduce fasting blood sugar levels and and and! Its high Cinnamaldehyde content also has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, which may reduce infections and help fight tooth decay and bad breath.
But before you head out to stock up on this magical ingredient, I'll have to let you in on a little secret:
Not all cinnamon is created equal.
There are essentially two main types of cinnamon namely the Ceylon cinnamon also known as “true” cinnamon and Cassia cinnamon, the more common variety today and what people generally refer to as “cinnamon.”
So what's the big deal?
Yes, both types of cinnamon still offer the health benefits described above, however, the Cassia variety contains significant amounts of a compound called coumarin, which is believed to be harmful in large doses.
Coumarin is a natural plant chemical that acts as a blood thinner and it is present in much higher concentrations in Cassia than in Ceylon cinnamon, which may be very important if you are taking certain hepatotoxic medications and preparing to undergo a surgical or dental procedure as you'll increase your risk of bleeding.
Though coumarin is a natural ingredient, it carries the risk of causing liver damage or failure in sensitive individuals, especially among those who consume the Cassia cinnamon daily, or in large amounts. Cassia cinnamon has high levels of coumarin, which is why some European countries have even banned the Cassia variety.
Cassia contains approximately 1% coumarin, while Ceylon contains only 0.004%, or 250 times less. This is so low that it’s often undetectable.
It already sounds like Ceylon is the preferable one but here's yet another reason why you should use Ceylon Cinnamon in your hot cocoa.
Ceylon cinnamon contains antioxidant compounds called proanthocyanidins.
Proanthocyanidins are similar to the antioxidant compounds found in green tea and grapes, which have been shown to strengthen capillaries, and offer antioxidant protection against heart disease and cancer. Additional benefits of Ceylon cinnamon include antimicrobial and anti-parasitic activity, digestive health, and blood pressure reduction.
Ceylon cinnamon also has a sweeter, more delicate flavour than Cassia cinnamon which has spicier undertones, making it more suitable for cooking than baking.
So how do you tell between the two?
Most cinnamon products retailing in our local supermarkets come in either stick or powdered form and most of the time, they are the Cassia variety. However, even though some bottles of powdered cinnamon may not specify which variety of cinnamon the contain, the Ceylon types will usually be clearly labeled on the bottle like this one below.
What about the cinnamon sticks? How do we tell them apart?
Okay, I've created this diagram above to help you distinguish between the cinnamon sticks (which are actually the plant bark), the Ceylon ones will appear thinner and multilayered while the Cassia sticks are single layered and thicker as shown above.
Another major physical difference is their colour. Ceylon is tan-brown in colour while Cassia is more reddish brown. Save the photo above for your next grocery trip!
I think I've been consuming the Cassia cinnamon variety all this while. What should I do?
The median lethal dose of coumarin is set at 275 mg/kg of body weight, and there is only 0.31g – 6.97g of coumarin in each kg of Cassia cinnamon. So how much needs to be ingested for the average adult, weighing 60kg for a minimum lethal dosage?
Well, the average 60kg adult would need to consume roughly 2.37kg of Cassia Cinnamon to reach this potentially lethal dose of coumarin. That’s about 10 cups of Cassia cinnamon which is crazy! Most people won’t even get close to this amount.
So if you think you've been consuming the Cassia cinnamon variety all this while, don't worry!
All in all...
Whether it's the Ceylon or Cassia type, cinnamon is one of the most delicious and healthiest spices on the planet. It can lower blood sugar levels, reduce heart disease risk factors and has a plethora of other impressive health benefits.
It has been used as an ingredient throughout history, dating back as far as Ancient Egypt. It used to be so rare and valuable that it was regarded as a gift fit for royalty!
So if you're making hot cocoa today, I would highly recommend you use Ceylon cinnamon but if you only have the Cassia variety at home, it's okay too - just use a small dose of it.
I hope you find this post useful! For more interesting health and wellness facts like this, check out our Youtube channel where we provide valuable personal training and nutrition advice on a weekly basis. Alright, all this cinnamon talk is making me crave for a delicious cuppa hot cocoa. I'm going to go make one right now!
'Whisking' you a very Merry Christmas!
Your friend, Juliana
Flow Fysique Factory Co-Founder and ISSA Certified Personal Trainer