Bowl of cinnamon sticks with text "COURAMIN 101"

What’s The Deal With Couramin?

Cinnamon evokes warmth, aromatic flavor associated with the holidays- sweet baked goods, spiked warm cider, and fragrant scented candles.  Besides its uses in food and aroma-enhancing agents, cinnamon has been used for millenniums in folk medicine and remedies. It’s beneficial health properties are widely recognized and accepted, but it has a hidden danger- couramin.

Couramin is a fragrant organic chemical compound found naturally in some plants. It is what gives cassia cinnamon, sweet woodruff, sweet-clover, and freshly-mown hay their recognizable sweet scent. High concentrations of couramin from foraged plants can be appetite suppressing, Nature’s defense mechanism against predators.

Couramin was isolated in 1820 by the French from the tonka bean, coumarou, from which it got its name and shortly after has been synthetically reproduced for use in perfumes, fabric softeners, and other scented products.

The different cinnamon varieties can be broadly categorized into 2 sets, especially when couramin is concerned- Ceylon cinnamon and cassia cinnamon.

Ceylon cinnamon has ultra-low level of couramin, while in contrast, the other types of cinnamon have comparably high levels of couramin that can cause liver damage if taken in high dosages over prolonged periods.

Type of Cinnamon Coumarin Content
Ceylon Cinnamon, True Cinnamon, Mexican Cinnamon 0.017 g/kg
Indonesian Cinnamon, Korintje Cinnamon, Padang Cassia 2.15 g/kg
Saigon cinnamon, Vietnamese Cassia, Vietnamese Cinnamon 6.97 g/kg
Cassia Cinnamon or Chinese Cinnamon 0.31 g/kg

Couramin Levels in Cinnamon

The German independent health assessment institute BfR brought to the wider public’s attention the toxicity of couramin and its alarming levels in the “Cassia Cinnamon” collective variety of cinnamons. According to the institute’s findings, high concentrations of couramin can cause liver damage, but for sensitive persons, a low dosage is enough to do the damage. The silver lining is the negative effect is usually reversible.

Since 2011, the European Union has set new permissible limit values for cinnamon-containing foods, however, there are no limit values for stand-alone cinnamon as a spice. This may be that Europe, as well as, Mexico, and a few other places, predominantly use Ceylon cinnamon, which has very low levels of couramin. To them, Ceylon cinnamon is synonymous with cinnamon.

For countries where cassia cinnamon is cinnamon, such as United States, Canada, much of Southeast Asia, it is worrisome. Consumers in these regions who use large amounts of cinnamon as a spice in their cooking, especially around the holiday seasons, should switch over to Ceylon cinnamon.

 For an adult with a body weight of 60 kg (132lb), the TDI value is reached, if 2 g of Cassia cinnamon are consumed per day. For an infant with a body weight of 15 kg, this is the case if 0.5 of Cassia cinnamon are consumed per day. Overall exposure can be increased by other sources, for example coumarin-containing cosmetics. Consumers who frequently and regularly eat cinnamon-containing foods should be aware of this. The BfR still recommends that Cassia cinnamon is consumed in moderation. Consumers frequently using large quantities of cinnamon as a condiment should therefore opt for the low-coumarin Ceylon cinnamon

The University of Mississippi did a study of couramin levels in commonly consumed cinnamon-food and cinnamon supplements in the US. The study was partly sponsored by the FDA and Ananda Wickramasinghe, the former Sri Lankan consul general in Los Angeles, CA.

What was especially alarming with the findings is the level of couramin in dietary supplements. It is highly possible that those taking the supplements on a daily basis, even if not to the maximum recommended dosage, are in danger of building up couramin in their body.

UofM Couramin study- couramin in food
University of Mississippi Study on Couramin- Content of Couramin in Cinnamon-Flavored and Dietary Supplements

If you have been taking or are thinking of taking cinnamon tablets, check the ingredients on the bottle to see if cassia cinnamon is listed. If so, throw the bottle out!

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