I’ve completely fallen head over heels for cinnamon. This slightly sweet, slightly spicy, incredibly rich flavored spice, is one of the most diverse ingredients when it comes to infusing plant-based recipes and beverages with a healthy boost of energy. For those of us that are avoiding sugar, cinnamon is truly the next best thing… except without those negative health side effects!
Yet, how much do we know about this spice? How about the different types of cinnamon?
Along with being quite delicious, cinnamon comes in different varieties — ceylon and cassia — and it is also a powerful medicinal agent with anti-inflammatory properties and is chock full of antioxidants!
Ceylon versus Cassia
There are two main types of cinnamon — ceylon and cassia — and these types are not created equal.
Let’s start with Cassia.
Cassia cinnamon — also “known as Chinese cinnamon” — originated “from the Cinnamomum cassia tree” in Southern China and has expanded, due to popularity, throughout Eastern and Southern Asia. What’s cassia like? This variety tends to be “dark brown-red color” with a rough texture and is generally thicker then Ceylon. Cassia is made of around 95% cinnamaldehyde, “which gives cassia a very strong, spicy flavor.”
That last bottle of cinnamon you bought at the market was most likely cassia cinnamon. Why is it so common? Well, unfortunately, cassia cinnamon is “considered lower quality” and happens to be “very cheap” making it the best choice for large chain stores that oftentimes sacrifice quality for price.
Alright, so maybe you’re interested in upgrading? Let’s take a look at the next best option, ceylon cinnamon.
Right off the bat, you’ll learn that ceylon cinnamon is also referred to as “true cinnamon.” Kinda a big hint that it may be the superior variety! Ceylon originates from “Sri Lanka and southern parts of India” and comes from the “inner bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree.”
While cassia is a dark-brown red color, rough, and thick, ceylon is “tan-brown in color and contains many tight sticks with soft layers.” These characteristics translate into a “highly desirable quality and texture” — oftentimes described as “delicate and mildly [flavored]” — which ranks them far above cassia when it comes to getting all those wonderful benefits. Ceylon has around 50 – 63 percent cinnamaldehyde — quite a bit lower than cassia — giving it a “milder aroma and flavor” and making it more popular for baking and for desserts.
Ceylon cinnamon’s superiority also happens to make it expensive.
How to Choose Between Ceylon and Cassia?
For most of us, while we’d like to make all of our choices based on what’s best for our body, oftentimes we also have to consider the price, leading to compromises here and there.
I admit that I generally buy cassia to save a bit of cash on my grocery bill. No shame in that!
Yet, it’s always a good idea to know your options, especially when it comes to consuming food.
While both cassia and ceylon are known for their positive effects on blood sugar — one of the prized health benefits of cinnamon — due to their differing essential oil percentages, you may receive varying health benefits. Unfortunately, science has not caught up with the growing interest in cinnamon. What does this mean? There’s not a whole lot of research educating on the distinctive health benefits differentiation between ceylon and cassia.
The only true piece of information when it comes to your health and cinnamon variety is that — due to the better quality — “ceylon has far less potential to cause harm when consumed regularly.” Therefore, if you’re consuming cinnamon on a daily basis — think about those toasty holiday drinks spiced with warming cinnamon or that dash in your oatmeal every morning — you may want to consider investing in some ceylon cinnamon every now and again.
Cinnamon as a Medicinal Agent
Talking about health benefits… cinnamon is an ancient medicinal remedy as well!
In fact, cinnamon “has been used as [a medicinal] ingredient throughout history, dating back as far as Ancient Egypt.” This may have been due to the fact that the spice “used to be rare and valuable,” yet cinnamon also had documented medicinal benefits on top of its rarity.
As we already learned, cinnamon gets its aroma and flavor from essential oils within the tree bark in which it grows, mostly from the “compound cinnamaldehyde.” Researchers believe that “this compound is responsible for most of cinnamon’s powerful effects on health and metabolism,” as well as its well-known blood sugar-stabilizing powers.
Health Benefits of Cinnamon
Now we know where cinnamon comes from, the difference between types, and how it can be a medicinal agent. Is there anything else that cinnamon is good for? Yep, plenty! In fact, besides the medicinal properties, cinnamon has a laundry list of health benefits.
Reduce Risk of Heart Disease
Cinnamon’s relationship to a reduced risk of heart disease is actually due to its other health benefits, which are precursors to heart disease. For instance, cinnamon helps stabilize and lower blood sugar. Cinnamon has also been found to help reduce “levels of total cholesterol, ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol and triglycerides, while ‘good’ HDL cholesterol remains stable.” On that note, a recent study showed that daily intake of cinnamon may actually increase HDL cholesterol levels … the good one! When all of these factors are combined, the risk of developing heart disease is drastically reduced!
Get Your Dose of Antioxidants
It’s pretty difficult to mention any plant-based food with also talking about antioxidants. This is what makes a plant-based diet so friggin’ great for those looking to decrease chronic inflammation — loads and loads of antioxidants in every plant-rich meal!
Hold up… what are antioxidants?
“Antioxidants are molecules that fight free radicals in your body. Free radicals are compounds that can cause harm if their levels become too high in your body. They’re linked to multiple illnesses, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Your body has its own antioxidant defenses to keep free radicals in check. However, antioxidants are also found in food, especially in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based, whole foods. Several vitamins, such as vitamins E and C, are effective antioxidants.”
Fights Bacterial and Fungal Infections
Looking for that all-natural, plant-based ingredient to keep your body illness-free over the coming winter months?
Cinnamon may be your go-to!
Due to the cinnamaldehyde content, cinnamon has been found to “help fight various kinds of infection,” specifically, treatment of “respiratory tract infections caused by fungi.” On top of that, cinnamon has been found to “inhibit the growth of certain bacteria, including Listeria and Salmonella,” and the “antimicrobial effects … may also help prevent tooth decay and reduce bad breath.”
Improve Sensitivity to Hormone Insulin
Speaking of blood sugar levels… turns out cinnamon has also been found to improve your sensitivity to the insulin hormone.
Why is this a good thing?
Well, first things first, what is insulin? Short and sweet, “insulin is one of the key hormones that regulate metabolism and energy use,” as well as being “essential for transporting blood sugar from your bloodstream to your cells.” When the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin — referred to as insulin resistance — then sugar is unable to transport out of blood cells and your blood sugar rises. This can lead to many health issues including “metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.”
Luckily, here comes cinnamon!
This wonderful, toasty spice has been linked to a dramatic reduction of insulin resistance. As cinnamon works to increase your insulin sensitivity, it can actually “lower blood sugar levels.”
Alright… we know all the basics of cinnamon, now let’s get down to the cooking. Cinnamon has fast become one of the most popular spices in the health world. This is not only attributed to the health benefits but also because, well, simply put it’s just wonderfully tasty! Plus, cinnamon is a great spice to use when you’re looking to reduce sugar intake. It’s slightly sweet and slightly spicy, helping to satiate that sugar-craving without consuming sugar. Let’s take a look at cinnamon-rich recipes for each meal of the day!
One of my favorite ways to consume cinnamon is for breakfast! Instead of mixing sugar-rich honey or maple syrup into my oats, I opt for a bit of fruit and a heaping teaspoon (or two … or three teaspoons) of cinnamon. Plus, oats are incredibly healthy and are loaded with vitamins, minerals, and fiber, all of which are a great way to start the day! Try a few cinnamon-rich oat recipes such this winter-friendly Cozy Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal, this super-healthy Buckwheat Breakfast Bowl and Apple Cinnamon Quinoa Porridge, or this decadent Cinnamon Roll Steel Cut Oatmeal.
With that said, you don’t have to stick with traditional! Experiment with cinnamon in more creative breakfast concoctions such as these Sweet Potato-Potato Fritters, this Cinnamon Roll Loaf, this Superpower Smoothie Bowl, or these Blueberry Oat Muffins.
When it comes to that meal in the middle of the day, we generally want quick, easy, energizing, and filling! Cinnamon has wonderful satiating qualities, while also helping to kick those mid-day sugar-cravings that generally come with low blood sugar and fatigue. Try spreading this Fermented Probiotic Apple Butter on a piece of grain-free bread or filling up with a super easy portable smoothie such as this Date-Sweetened Pumpkin Pie Smoothie, this Strawberry Beet Cinnamon Smoothie, or this Orange Dream Mango Smoothie.
Sometimes, I have those days where lunch just isn’t enough to get me through to dinner. Incorporating cinnamon-based snacks is not only a delightful way to keep your tummy from grumbling during late afternoon meetings, but it also helps stabilize blood sugar levels until your next meal. With that said, try incorporating snacks that not only have cinnamon but are also rich in healthy fats and fiber. This will satiate your tummy with less consumption making sure you still have room for a healthy dinner to end the day!
Just a few ideas …
These Raw Apple Bars are a perfect snack to keep at your desk and also happen to be great for starting out the day! Mix some of this Maple Crunch Granola or this Cinnamon Crunch Granola with your favorite vegan yogurt, such as this Homemade Cashew Yogurt. Pop a handful of these Maple Cinnamon Cayenne Cashews.
Think cinnamon is reserved for breakfast foods and baking? Think again! Cinnamon has a bit of a kick of spice, making it a great addition to some savory recipes as well. When it comes to cooking with cinnamon for dinner, think about combining your spicy cinnamon with something naturally sweet and dosing the entire concoction with a bit of earthy essence, such as this Cinnamon Turmeric Sweet Potato, or this Three Bean and Sweet Potato Chili.
Cinnamon is also great for side dishes to go along with your dinner meal such as this Orange Cinnamon Pull Apart Bread (also great for breakfast!) or this Cinnamon Raisin Bread, plus spread this Macadamia Cashew Butter on a slice for extra healthy fat,
Lastly, when it comes to cold weather dinner options, soup is one of the most popular. Cinnamon is an excellent addition to creamier soup recipes such as this Coriander Sweet Potato Soup with Toasted Cinnamon Pecans.
One of the most popular ways to use cinnamon is in dessert recipes, especially when it comes to baking! Cinnamon may be a bit spicy, but it’s also wonderfully sweet as well. When it comes to baking with cinnamon, the sky’s the limit! Here are a few cinnamon-based vegan recipes to give you inspiration this winter: Cinnamon Stars, Spanish Churros, Apple Crisp, Mexican-Spiced Chocolat Avocado Pudding, or these Vegan Cinnamon Scones (also great for breakfast!).
We also highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 15,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
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