Cinnamon is probably a key spice in your pantry. It’s a staple in a number of baked goods, and also makes an excellent addition sprinkled into coffee, onto toast, or in your morning fruit smoothie. But did you know that not all cinnamon is the same?
In fact, many of us may actually be using fake cinnamon. But, does it really matter? Will it have any effect on the taste of homemade cinnamon rolls or French toast? Get the real deal on fake cinnamon before you’re duped at the grocery store.
Not All Cinnamon Is Created Equal
It turns out there are two types of cinnamon: the true variety, Ceylon (also called Cinnamomum verum) and cassia (Cinnamomum cassia). Interestingly, the FDA does not distinguish between the two spices despite their differences in aroma, flavor, and texture.
As a result, real cinnamon, as well as fake cinnamon, make their way onto store shelves. While they may differ, the majority of consumers will be unable to tell them apart. Fortunately, both Ceylon and cassia can be used interchangeably in recipes, so your cinnamon bakes won’t be significantly altered unless you’re a cinnamon connoisseur.
However, for those who want the good stuff, there are ways to pick up on the flavor differences. Nutritionist and former BBC food professional Gina Waggott told Eating Well, “Ceylon cinnamon is heady, sweet and spicy.” In contrast, cassia has a more robust flavor. “It’s a bit like the difference between a dark-roast coffee and a regular one.”
Another way to identify a fake is by its color. Typically, Cassia is reddish-brown, while Ceylon is tan-brown. As for the smell, Ceylon will have a delicate, citrusy, and sweet aroma, while cassia will overwhelm your senses.
Furthermore, all cinnamon contains a natural compound, coumarin, which imparts its flavor. Less expensive cinnamon, such as cassia, is likely to contain more coumarin. Although cassia is safe for consumption, excessive amounts of coumarin could cause liver damage and cancer.
Subtle taste differences and coumarin may not be enough to make you reconsider the discounted cinnamon on the spice rack. But perhaps the fillers will make you think twice.
What’s Really Lurking In Your Bargain Cinnamon
Insects, mold, and mouse poop, oh my! Aside from an anti-caking agent that aids in shelf-life extension, fake cinnamons also contain a number of questionable ingredients.
According to the FDA, any spice labeled cinnamon can contain up to 5% insect-infested pieces by weight or 5% moldy pieces by weight and up to up to 11 per 50 grams of rodent hairs. And if that wasn’t horrifying enough, the FDA also states that these spices may also contain up to 1 milligram of “mammalian excreta,” (aka mouse poop). Yikes!
Try your best to avoid creepy crawlies by opting for spices brands like Simply Organics which only provide Ceylon cinnamon. Another option is to purchase Ceylon cinnamon sticks and grind them yourself.