Cinnamon & Coumarin: Is It Bad For Your Health?
We often receive questions from customers about coumarin and cinnamon, so we decided to take a closer look at the issue.
The key points:
- Coumarin is a compound found in high concentration in cassia cinnamon
- Coumarin is potentially harmful to the liver of sensitive individuals, so care should be taken when consuming cassia cinnamon
- True cinnamon (also known as Ceylon cinnamon) contains much lower levels of coumarin and is safe to consume
- We sell only organic true cinnamon. We do not sell cassia cinnamon
- We now test every batch of our organic true cinnamon for coumarin content
- Our current batch of organic true cinnamon contains less than 20mg per kg or 0.056mg per teaspoon; this compares with 5.8 - 12mg per teaspoon in cassia cinnamon - which is between 100 - 200 times less. Or to put it another way, it contains only 0.5-1% of the coumarin of cassia. Therefore you can consume much more of our organic true cinnamon daily and still stay within the safe limits for coumarin intake
What is coumarin?
Coumarin is a chemical compound found in a variety of plants. It is a colourless crystalline substance in its natural state. The name comes from a French term for the tonka bean, coumarou, one of the sources from which coumarin was first isolated as a natural product in 1820. It has a sweet, fragrant odour. Coumarin is sometimes added to cosmetics and is a precursor to some pharmaceutical medications.
5 Foods that contain coumarin:
1. Cassia cinnamon
2. Tonka beans
3. Mexican vanilla
Coumarin and health:
The main concern associated with coumarin consumption is its potential to cause liver damage. An animal study evaluated the impact of coumarin toxicity and showed that it could induce liver-damage when administered to rats (1).
Although most research has been restricted to animal models, the use of coumarin for medical purposes has shown that even small amounts can lead to liver damage in a small group of sensitive individuals. However, the effects are usually reversible.
Coumarin in cinnamon:
Much of the debate has been about the coumarin content of perhaps the two most well-known species of cinnamon: cassia cinnamon and true cinnamon (also known as Ceylon cinnamon). True cinnamon is produced in Sri Lanka, India, Madagascar, and Brazil. It has a fine texture and a subtle, sweet flavour. Cassia is mainly produced in China, Vietnam, and Indonesia. It has an almost chemical-like flavour and tastes stronger than true cinnamon.
True Ceylon cinnamon contains very low levels of coumarin, which in the opinion of the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BRF)*, is safe to consume. Cassia cinnamon contains higher levels of coumarin, so it is not advisable to consume large quantities of it over prolonged periods.
*The BRF is a European health agency/scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government on questions of food, chemical, and product safety.
What is the safe amount of coumarin to consume?
The BRF, through their study, has established a tolerable daily intake (TD1) of 0.1mg coumarin per kg body weight (2). They also advise that higher consumption for a short period is not dangerous (3). The BRF states that 1kg of cassia cinnamon contains about 2.1 to 4.4g of coumarin (4). Powdered cassia cinnamon weights 0.56 g/cm3, so a kilogram of cassia cinnamon powder equals 362.29 teaspoons. One teaspoon of cassia cinnamon powder, therefore, contains 5.8 to 12.1mg of coumarin, which may be above the tolerable daily intake value for smaller individuals (5). The BRF's report also states that Ceylon cinnamon contains "hardly any" coumarin. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) of the United States does not classify coumarin as a carcinogen for humans (6).
What type of cinnamon does Stay Fresh Organics sell?
We only sell organic true cinnamon powder. We do not sell cassia cinnamon.
We now test our cinnamon for coumarin:
Our current batch of organic true cinnamon contains less than 20mg per kg or 0.056mg per teaspoon; this compares with 5.8 - 12mg per teaspoon with cassia cinnamon - so a difference of between 100 - 200 times less. Or to put it another way, it contains only 0.5-1% of the coumarin of cassia. Therefore you can consume much more of our organic true cinnamon daily and still stay within the safe limits for coumarin intake.
Take care when consuming cassia cinnamon due to high levels of coumarin. True cinnamon is safe to eat in large quantities. We have based the information presented in this blog entry on the latest data available. Please get in contact if you have any questions, and speak to a doctor or health professional if you have doubts about your health.