Cassia is the English word for Cinnamomum aronaticum. It belongs to the genus of the Fabaceae, subfamily Caesalpinioideae. In the old days Cassia denoted the Cinnamomum species which also comprised the spice that was widely traded.
Cassia is also a tree, usually small in height, which grows in the regions of India, Indonesia, Egypt, Brazil, Vietnam and Sri Lanka. It is the one of the oldest spices known to be used by mankind. Cassia is obtained by drying and rolling the bark obtained from cinnamon trees into sticks. These sticks are also popularly called quills. Cinnamon or Cassia is also dried and then ground into powder for use in various cuisines. The characteristic aroma as well as the distinct flavor of cassia comes from the compound called cinnamonaldehyde which is found in the essential oil from the bark of a tree.
Ceylon Cinnamon- There are two main varieties of cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon is commonly called the true cinnamon in most countries. It tends to be more expensive as compared to other varieties and has a characteristic sweet taste. The quills of this cinnamon tend to be softer making it easier to ground the cinnamon even in coffee grinder. One can procure Ceylon cinnamon from the local specialty stores.
Cassia Cinnamon- Most of the cinnamon being sold in the supermarkets in huge quantities essentially belongs to a less expensive variety called Cassia Cinnamon. This variety not only is darker in color but even the quills tend to be harder. This makes it difficult to grind the cinnamon into powder consistently with the simple use of a coffee grinder, quite unlike the Ceylon Cinnamon.
Usage of Cassia
The bark of Cassia acts like a flavoring spice in confectionery, pastries, meat, deserts and especially in several recipes of curry. The buds of Cassia plant might be rare but are also used as spices. They have close resemblance to cloves and are also characterized with a mild flavor of the flowery cinnamon. These buds are used for the old fashioned recipes for pickles, marmalade and teas. The rich aromatic flavor of this spice is essential in most of the cuisines form the various countries of South- East Asia and the Arabic nations. There are even references of the use of cassia in the book of Moses, The Bible.
Health Benefits of Cassia
While the ingredient is thought to be an important part related to cuisines and cooking, there are several health benefits which can be derived from cassia too. In the traditional study of the Chinese medicine it is revealed that Cassia cinnamon was widely used to cure cold, nausea, diarrhea, flatulence as well as for relieving pain during menstrual periods. Cassia Cinnamon also tends to improve one’s energy, vitality as well as circulation and is essentially beneficial to people who have hot upper bodies but cold feet.
In Ayurveda, the ancient science of medicine from India, Cinnamon is also projected as great remedy for diseases like diabetes, cold as well as indigestion. It is recommended to people who have the ‘kapha ayurveda’ as their main characteristic. Cassia also forms the main ingredient found in tea that is consumed in several parts of the world and is believed to enhance the power of digestion of milk and several other kinds of dairy products.
Scientific Evidence Related to Cassia
Recent studies conducted in the medicinal fields showcase that Cassia has certain beneficial effects on the blood sugar levels of the body. In the year 2003, the first of several human studies, on evidence of benefits of cassia, got published in Diabetes Care, medical journal. As per this study 60 individuals suffering from diabetes Type 2 were administered doses of 1, 3 and 6 grams Cinnamon in form of a pill daily. This is equivalent to an amount of a teaspoon to quarter teaspoon of the spice.
After a period of 40 days, it was found that the three amounts administered tend to reduce the fasting levels of blood sugar by 18- 29%. The triglycerides reduced to 23-30% while the LDL Cholesterol went down by 7- 27%. There was a total reduction of 12 – 26 % in the total cholesterol levels.
Also several preliminary lab studies have revealed that cassia has antibacterial as well as antifungal properties too. It was also found to be extremely active against the Candida albicans, a kind of fungus which causes thrush as well as yeast infection. This also vouches for the traditional use of the spice in food and beverages which are stored for longer periods. It also fights the Helicobacter pylori, a bacterium found to be responsible for the ulcers of the stomach.
Safety Aspects of Cassia
Individuals who are on medication for diabetes or one that affects the blood glucose and insulin levels must not indulge in therapeutic usage of cassia without guided supervision of a doctor. Taking cassia and such medication together can have additive effect while causing a dip in the levels of blood glucose.
Cassia, the common type of cinnamon readily available in the supermarkets and grocery stores contains the compound known as Coumarin. This compound is also present in plants like sweet clover, parsley, chamomile and celery. When taken in high amounts, coumarin may severely damage one’s liver. It also has a “blood thinning” effect on the body. Therefore it is advised not to have cassia supplements without the prescription for anti-clotting medicines or for individuals who suffer from various bleeding disorders.
Cassia is also found in the form of oils extracted from the bark of the cinnamon tree. The oils thus extracted are not for consumption but to be used as aromatherapy oils. It must be headed that an overdose of this highly potent oil can even depress one’s nervous system. Therefore use the oil under the supervision of qualified professionals only. Pregnant woman must clearly avoid taking any excessive quantities of this spice and completely avoid it as supplement. While cassia has several health benefits when taken in well regulated and monitored amounts, it can also prove to be harmful in many ways.