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FSSAI releases document differentiating between cassia & true cinnamon

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.

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 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.

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