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FSSAI releases document differentiating between cassia & true cinnamon
Saturday, 08 June, 2013, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Akshay Kalbag, Mumbai
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The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) – the country's apex food regulator – recently released a document on cassia (known locally as taj) and cinnamon (locally known as dalchini). Among its contents were a brief description of coumarins and the differences between cassia and true cinnamon.

Introduction
Cassia is botanically known as Cinnamomum cassia blume; Cinnamomum burmannii; occidentalis; cassia tora; cassia obtusifolia; Cinnamomum cassia; Cinnamomum Cassia (nees) ex blume; Cinnamomum aromaticum (nees) syn; Cinnamomum burmannii (C G nees) blume and Cinnamumum loureini nees.

Cassia – which is incorrectly referred to as Ceylon cinnamon – is a member of the same family  to which cinnamon (which is also known as Chinese cinnamon, Java cinnamon, Padang cassia and Saigon cinnamon) belongs. However, what cassia and cinnamon do not have in common is their coumarin content.

Although cinnamon and cassia are related, they are not obtained from the same plant. They should be treated as separate foods, both from a nutritional and a health standpoint. Scientifically, there is only one true cinnamon, which is most commonly called Ceylon cinnamon and comes from the plant Cinnamomum zeylancium.

“In fact, cassia is often misnamed and mistaken for cinnamon, and is even marketed to the consumers through retail outlets as cinnamon. Since the price of the former is far lower than that of the former, traders have the tendency to mislabel cassia as cinnamon deliberately and encash the opportunity for their gain. Cassia is often used to adulterate cinnamon,” the FSSAI document pointed out.

Coumarins
Coumarins are naturally-occurring plant components present in cassia. They are chemical compounds from the benzopyrene family. While the level of naturally-occurring coumarins in Ceylon cinnamon appears to be very small and lower than the amount that could cause health risks, the level of naturally-occurring coumarins in cassia is higher and may pose a risk if consumed in large quantities regularly.

The chemical compositions of Ceylon cinnamon and cassia are different. In contrast to cassia, Ceylon cinnamon contains eugenol and benzyl-benzoate, but no (or at the most trace amounts of) coumarin. The level of coumarin in the bark of cassia varies considerably. They depend considerably on the respective sub-species or on the climatic conditions.

“The Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011 distinguish between cassia [the bark of trees of Cinnamomum cassia (nees) ex blume; Cinnamomum aromaticum (nees) syn; Cinnamomum burmannii (C G nees) blume, and Cinnamumum loureini nees (wherein the edible portion of the tree is the bark)] and cinnamon [the inner bark of trunks or branches of Cinnamomum zeylancium blume], and prescribe standards for both. These have been laid down in Regulations 2.9.4 (1) and 2.9.5 (1),” the FSSAI document stated.

The regulator said, “Coumarin is a natural flavouring which is found in many plants. It occurs in higher concentrations in types of cinnamon grouped together under the name cassia cinnamon.”

“A rough distinction can be made between two types of cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon contains low levels of coumarin, which are safe. By contrast, cassia cinnamon contains high levels of coumarin and large amounts of this should not be consumed,” FSSAI added.

Differences between cinnamon and cassia
According to the FSSAI document, “Varieties of cassia have a stronger, more intense and often hotter flavour than Ceylon cinnamon, owing to the increased percentage of cinnamaldehyde, up to five or six per cent by weight. Cassia also has a significant amount of the blood-thinning phytochemical coumarin. Cinnamon and cassia sticks, however, have obvious visual markers which make them easy to identify.”

Parameter

True cinnamon

Cassia

Taste

Real or true cimmamon is sweet and delicate

The taste of cinnamon cassia ranges between strong and peppery

Colour

Real cinnamon is light brown or tan in colour

Cinnamon cassia's colour ranges between reddish brown and dark brown

Look

Real cinnamon sticks curl from one side only and roll up like a newspaper. Real cinnamon from Ceylon (Cinnamomum zeylancium) is filled like a cigar

Cinnamon cassia bark is thicker because its outer layer is stripped off. For that reason, cassia sticks curl inward from both sides towards the centre as they dry. Cassia has a hollow tube.

Feel

Real Ceylon cinnamon bark is smooth

The surface of Cassia is rough and uneven

Grown in

India and Sri Lanka

China, Vietnam and Indonesia

Coumarin content

Low

High




In the case of cassia a relatively thick layer of the bark has been rolled into a stick, but the cross-section of a Ceylon cinnamon stick looks more like a cigarette – several thin layers of bark have been rolled up into a cinnamon stick resulting in a comparatively compact cross-section.

The origin of the cinnamon is not normally declared on the packaging. False information has been supplied in the past.

Test to differentiate between powdered cinnamon and cassia

FSSAI's document said, “It is difficult to tell powdered cinnamon from powdered cassia, but when powdered bark is treated with a tincture of iodine (a test for starch), little effect is visible in case of pure cinnamon of good quality, but when cassia is present, a deep-blue tint is produced, the intensity of the colouration depending on the proportion of cassia.”

Ill-effects of cassia

Coumarin is a chemical compound – specifically, a benzopyrone – found in many plants, particularly in cassia [Cannamomum cassia (nees) ex blume]. Coumarin is moderately toxic to the liver and kidneys, with an LD50 of 275mg/kg. They have strong anti-coagulant properties because our blood needs to maintain its ability to coagulate in times of injury, the excessive intake of coumarins over a prolonged period of time can pose health risks.

According to the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, “One kilogram of cassia powder contains approximately 2,100 to 4,400mg of coumarin. That means one teaspoon of cassia powder contains 5.8 to 12.1mg of coumarin. Species of Cassia like cassia occidentalis, cassia tora and cassia obtusifolia are different from cinnamon, as their barks do not contain the flavoring compound cinnamaldehyde. In fact, these give an obnoxious smell and have severe health effects.”

Reports stated that the repetitive and prolonged ingestion of a health drink made from the herb of cassia genus resulted in hepatoxicity in adults. Another study revealed that in humans, the ingestion of cassia occidentalis can cause severe purging. Cassia toxicity causes acute hepato-myo-encephalopathy syndrome.

FSSAI said, “It is common knowledge that relatively low doses of coumarin cause liver damage in a small group of particularly sensitive individuals if consumed over a few months. In minor cases, this leads to an elevation of liver enzymes in blood, and in severe cases to inflammation of the liver which manifests as jaundice. The exact mechanism of action is not known, but the effects are reversible.”

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has established a tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.1mg of coumarin per kilogram of body weight. The exposure calculation revealed that in the worst-case scenario, children who eat a lot of cassia (cinnamon) exceeded the TDI value for coumarin established by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
 
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