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You Are Here: IC Network : Fresh Tastes : November 1999

Cinnamons - True and False

One of my most pleasurable experiences on cool fall days is walking past the local bakery and smelling the wonderful aroma of something cinnamon in the air. A commonly used flavoring in North America, cinnamon gives a spicy lift to teas and coffees, a mellow sweetness to baked goods, and compliments the flavor of many fruits. Most IC patients don't have a problem with the small amounts of cinnamon used in foods, and we can often substitute it for cloves (a sure-fire bladder provoker). But ours is a fickle disease and each person's body reacts differently. A few of us may indeed suffer bladder pain after eating foods which are very heavily laden with cinnamon. If you've been careful to rule out every other ingredient in baked goods, and suspect that your bladder pain is being actually being provoked by the cinnamon, you may still have some options to combat the symptom flares without giving up cinnamon altogether. Understanding a bit about this spice will be helpful.

In years past, cinnamon was found in your great-grandmother's medicine cabinet as well as in her spice rack. One of its notable uses in the last century was to ease the flatulence caused by eating "gassy" foods. But what we have come to call call cinnamon today is actually two substances, and the difference may be significant for a few tender IC bladders.

Both substances we call cinnamon come from the inner bark of trees that have historically been cultivated in southeast Asia. The first substance is made from the tree known as Cinnamomum verum (also called "Ceylon cinnamon", "cinnamomum zeylanicum" or "true cinnamon"). Its medicinal properties include a mild antifungal and antibacterial effect.

The second substance we call cinnamon comes from the bark of a related tree, Cinnamomum aromaticum, often called "Chinese cinnamon", "false cinnamon" or "cassia cinnamon". (This cassia is not related to the strong laxative product sold in stores as "cassia" or "senna").

The bark of cassia cinnamon is slightly bitter and has a stronger taste than that of true cinnamon. Cassia cinnamon has long been used in Chinese medicine to treat diarrhea, rheumatic conditions, and to stabilize immunity among other things. Because true cinnamon is more expensive to obtain, most of the cinnamon sold in stores today is cassia cinnamon, or a blend of true and cassia cinnamons. (Some people say you can identify sticks of true cinnamon by looking at the way they roll. True cinnamon tends to form a single tube whereas cassia cinnamon rolls from both sides toward the middle).

Both kinds of cinnamon get their flavor from a chemical called cinnamaldehyde. And therein may lie one of its problems. Cinnamaldehyde has a moderate tendency to produce allergic reactions and some IC patients say they react with their bladders to substances their allergists have determined they are genuinely allergic to.

Both types of cinnamon also contain some other substances that IC sufferers might want to take note of: eugenol and oxalates. Cassia cinnamon has more allergenic cinnamaldehyde than true cinnamon and may have more of these other substances as well. Eugenol (eugenic acid) is found in huge amounts in cloves, a spice notorious as an IC bladder burner. Eugenol is well-known as a gastrointestinal irritant too. Cinnamon has only small amounts of eugenol compared to cloves which is probalby why many IC patients can safely use it as a substitute for cloves.

Because cinnamon contains oxalates however, women IC patients who have vulvodynia may want to limit the amount they consume. High-oxalate foods appear to exacerbate vulvar pain for some women. And what's worse, the vulvar irritation can trigger bladder pain too. The Vulvar Pain Foundation currently recommends that daily consumption of ground cinnamon be limited to 1-1/2 teaspoons or less. (The type of cinnamon was not indicated).

IC patients who have allergies may find that they are sensitive to both food and non-food (toothpaste, soap, etc) uses of cinnamon. The type may or may not be important if you are allergic to it-- your "target" organ (skin, sinus, colon, bladder, etc.) may react to either kind of cinnamon, even in very small amounts.

If your extra-sensitive bladder reacts to the typical cassia-blend cinnamon, it may be worth it to try a milder 100% true cinnamon product. The Spice Hunter, a company located in San Luis Obispo, California, is one company that markets many quality organic and non-irradiated spices. Their offerings include a ground cinnamon made from 100% true cinnamon, not cassia. To find a store near you that carries this product, you can call 1-800-444-3061.


If artifical ingredients in commercial breakfast cereals hurt your bladder but cinnamon doesn't, try making your own cinnamon granola-type cereal.

Cinnamon-Oat Cereal
8 servings

1 Tbsp. canola oil
1 tsp. ground 100% true cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ground coriander
1/2 c. packed light brown sugar
1/2 c. warm water
4 c. rolled or quick oats

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. In a large pyrex measuring cup or heat-proof bowl, mix together the hot water and brown sugar, stirring and pressing sugar lumps to dissolve them. Add oil, cinnamon, and coriander, mixing well.

Measure oats into a large bowl. Drizzle the liquid ingredients evenly over all the oats. Toss and stir quickly just until the oats are evenly moistened, about 30 seconds. Don't overmix or the oats will become gluey and stick together.

Spread onto a large rimmed baking sheet. (Covering the sheet with aluminum foil first, makes for easier cleanup). Make sure the oats are spread out evenly and thinly.

Bake at 300 degrees F. for 25 minutes. Stir and check for doneness. Bake another 10 to 12 minutes, until oats are a light golden brown, watching carefully to make sure the cereal doesn't burn. Remove from oven and cool on baking sheet. When cool, break up any large lumps, pour into a airtight container. Keeps well.

Per serving: 223 calories; 4 g. total fat; 0 mg. cholesterol

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This article originally published November 1999, revised and updated by the author January 2004.


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