cassia vs cinnamon

summary: why we had butter chicken instead of curried chicken and what happens to ground cinnamon sticks when they are cooked. Includes a thrilling video.

(click on image to see larger view and more photos)

cinnamon Not too long ago, we were in India town looking to replenish various spices, including cassia bark. We were excited to see actual cinnamon rather than cassia bark for sale so instead of getting the cassia, we snapped up the cinnamon, imagining that real cinnamon MUST be better than cassia.

We were entertaining friends for dinner yesterday and planned to serve naan, palak paneer, beets and fennel seed and curried chicken with dark beer and/or vino verde, followed by one of our favourite desserts, Srikund.

As usual, T made the curry in the morning so there would be time for the flavours to meld. He doesn’t always put cinnamon in (in fact, it’s not listed in our recipe online) but he decided that as we had the real thing for once, it would be fun to add some to this particular curry.

Delicious aromas abounded. And at around noon, he checked on the gently bubbling sauce. I’m sure if you’d been listening, you’d have heard the blood curdling cries coming from our kitchen:


WHY is the curry covered in slime?!

We fished the chicken out of the most disgusting looking ooze. Out went the sauce into the wet garbage. (Sorry, no photographic evidence of the sauce. We were too busy coughing, gagging and spewing.) We then assessed the chicken and decided that it was one thing to rescue it and serve it to us but quite another to do the same for guests. So, as I was mixing naan dough, out T went to get more chicken.

And switched to making butter chicken. Without cinnamon.

And once that was nicely bubbling and looked and smelled juuuust right, T could take a moment to rack his brains to try to figure out what he had done differently with the curry – as he said, “In 20 years of making curries, he has never had such a spectacular failure“. The only thing he could think that was different was the cinnamon.

cinnamon snot To prove that it had to be the cinnamon, he ground some up, added it to water and brought it to a boil. This is the result.

Eeeeeewwwwwww!!! Cinnamon Snot!!!

Or Cinnamon Muselage. At least that’s what it makes me think of. “Cinnamon Muselage ” seems somehow just vaguely less queasemaking (yes, I know; that ISN’T a word) than “cinnamon snot”, doesn’t it?

Final Score:

  • Cinnamon: 0
  • Cassia: 10

And the clear winner is: Cassia bark.

The cinnamon sticks are composted now (I hope they don’t ruin our compost heap!) and we’ll be bicycling out to Indiatown soon to get some cassia bark. No more cinnamon for us, thank you very much.

Just curious, has anyone else ever had this problem with real cinnamon in a curry?

cinnamon snot Oh by the way, the final dinner was delicious (no photos – we were too busy stuffing our faces). And the cinnamon snot made for a most thrilling pre-dinner demonstration. So thrilling that our friends suggested we take a video so everyone could get the full effect.

Please take a look at the video we took. (Feel free to add your own sound effects.)

Read more about cinnamon and cassia:

edit 16 June 2008: It turns out I’m not the only one who has had this experience. Take a look at this blog entry (great photos of cinnamon slime!):

Also, see Dave D’s response to the question:

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16 responses to “cassia vs cinnamon

  1. ejm Post author

    We HAD to go out and buy more chicken, Paz. Either that or tell our friends that we were taking them out to dinner. The curry was as disgusting-looking as the cinnamon on its own – actually, more so, because of the added lumps of chicken. The tragedy was that it smelled SO good!

    We’ve never seen cinnamon do this either, Val, ground or not. But frankly, I don’t think we’re going to go testing any. We’re staying with cassia bark from now on.

    Rats!! I wish I’d though of saying that, T!

  2. brilynn

    I’ve never seen that happen before, how odd! And how unfortunate for you dinner, although I’m sure the butter chicken was fabulous!

    It is indeed odd. We’ve never seen it happen before either, Brilynn, although I have had bad ground cinnamon in the past (I absolutely ruined the prune filling for vinar terta and had to race out to buy more cinnamon). The butter chicken was good but from the aromas, it seemed like the curry was going to be the best ever. We were afraid to try any though. We really didn’t know WHAT was making the slime factor. (We didn’t end up rescuing the chicken either. The next day, it was completely covered in slime and after appropriate gagging and “eeeewwwwwwwwww”s, was promptly moved into our greenbox garbage – man oh man, that turned out to be an expensive dinner!) -Elizabeth

  3. jo

    My cinnamon always gets thick. But I buy Cassia?? Everytime I make chai, I leave the spices in after the first few cups are poured, but the “cinnamon” gets gelled so I always pull it out. I WISH mine was real Cinnamon, because it is healthier.

  4. ejm Post author

    I would have liked to see a little more detail on the link you provided, Pat. And I’m not completely sure that cinnamon is really all that much healthier than cassia, Jo. It all depends on just how much cinnamon/cassia you are consuming. But thank you both for commenting.

    For a little more information about coumarin quantities in cinnamon and cassia, take a look at these excerpts from Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages (

    excerpt from the Cinnamon page:

    The essential oil of cinnamon bark (max. 4%) is dominated by the two phenylpropanoids […]. Other phenylpropanoids (safrole, coumarin [max. 0.6%] cinnamic acid esters), mono- and sesquiterpenes, although occurring only in traces, do significantly influence the taste of cinnamon.
    Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages: Cinnamon (

    excerpt from Gernot Katzer’s Cassia page:

    [C]assia contains […] significant amounts (7%) of coumarin. […] The limit [of coumarin] is very low in German law, 2 ppm irrespective of the type of food, which would equal about half a gram of cassia if a maximum coumarin content is assumed. […] In contrast, the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment published an alternative limit of 0.1 mg Coumarin per kg body mass and day, which is considered harmless as average intake. According to this scale, a person of 50 kg could afford to eat 5 mg coumarin or at least one gram of cassia per day.
    Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages: Cassoa (

    But I must say I find the following notes about the slime factor to be much more surprising than the notes about coumarin:

    Cassia bark contains significantly more slime (11%) than Ceylon cinnamon bark.
    Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages: Cassia
    The slime content of [cinnamon] bark is rather low (3%).
    Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages: Cinnamon

    Clearly, we got some super slime cinnamon!

    I took a look in On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee to see that he says nothing about the slime factor OR coumarin. Neither does Arabella Boxer in A Culinary Guide to Herbs, Spices and Flavourings.

    We went to Indiatown last week and bought cassia bark anyway… there’s no way we’re taking the risk of using actual cinnamon again.

  5. ejm Post author

    Annette, I suspect that ground cinnamon will work.

    cinnamon Equivalents: One cinnamon stick yields 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon.

    – excerpt from ‘The Cooks Thesaurus’ (

  6. Pat C

    The Cinnamon that we buy in the US is actually Cassia.

    Cassia has a chemical called coumarin which could be toxic. Please see the following link to read more

    German Federal Institute for Risk Management: coumarin in cinnamon: 30 October 2006 (

    I had heard that almost all the cinnamon sold in Canada and the US is derived from Cassia too.

    (excerpt from wikipedia: Coumarin)

    Coumarin is a chemical compound (benzopyrone); a toxin found in many plants, notably in high concentration in the tonka bean, vanilla grass, woodruff, mullein, and bison grass.[…]Coumarin is moderately toxic to the liver and kidneys […]. Although only somewhat dangerous to humans, […] European health agencies have warned against consuming high amounts of cassia bark, one of the four species of cinnamon, because of its coumarin content. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment has established a tolerable daily intake of 0.1 mg coumarin per kg body weight, but also advises that, [if] this level is exceeded for a short time only, there is no threat to health. For example, a person weighing 135 lbs or about 61 kg would have a TDI of approximately 6.1 mg of coumarin. […] 1 teaspoon of cinnamon powder contains 5.8 to 12.1 mg of coumarin, which may be above the Tolerable Daily Intake for smaller individuals.

    A teaspoon of cinnamon is quite a lot of cinnamon. I doubt that many would consume this much in a day -ejm

  7. Kurundu

    Interesting! I grew up with cinnamon until I left my little village in Sri Lanka in 1990 to come to Canada. I was surrounded by Ceylon cinnamon trees whereever I went (80% cinnamon plantations). That was my favourite snack; I would break a leaf and eat the stem. After eating few stems if the trip through cinnamon plantation is longer I would break off a stick and chew the bark.

    I never looked at the slime that way. We put cinnamon in every curry. But it is only meat and fish that creates the slime. After I read your blog, I boiled 1 tbsp of cinnamon in a cup of water and boiled it. It is getting cooled as I write this. Did you ever think about other slime this way like gelatin for example? Sour cream, Yorgurt, they are all slimy in a different way. Meat and fish curries doesn’t get slimy until it is cooled. When you warm it up it dessolves. I use this slime to take out more fat from the dish. Fat is just on top of the slime. If any of you are interested in Ceylon Cinnamon they are available at Noah’s Natural foods and few other natural food stores. Brunos fine foods has them too. Not all locations have them, so call before you go to the store.

  8. Kurundu

    It is almost 6 a.m. November 11. My test is still waiting to be slimy. It was sitting on my counter all night. It is exactly how it looked when I boiled it only colder. I think you got some cinnamon that is contaminated with something. Or may be it is how cinnamon from India. Or it was mixed with cassia (I haven’t done the test with cassia since I don’t have cassia powder). I know true cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum or C.zeylanicum) is native to Sri Lanaka and South India. Here is a link I found in the web about the slimy factor. This one agrees with my observation over few decades of my life. I have never bought cinnamon here. I always bring my own spices from Sri Lanka (yes for 18 years I have done it). How come_when cinnamon is prepared in a hot liquid it sometimes gets slimy

    I can deliver some of real cinnamon to you.

  9. ejm Post author

    Kurundu, the results from your experiments are fascinating. (And I like your point about different kinds of slime. The slime produced from the inferior cinnamon we bought was really offensive though. I don’t think anyone would have wanted to eat that curry! It was still quite slimy when it was warm and disgustingly so when it was cold.)

    Initially, we thought the cinnamon we bought was contaminated as well; we were so sure that we threw it out. It was only after reading about cinnamon and cassia that we suspected the cinnamon we bought was from an inferior breed of cinnamon tree, once again proving that if the price seems too good to be true, it IS too good to be true.

    It’s very kind of you to offer to deliver real cinnamon to us. But we have not had any problems with the cassia bark purchased in Indiatown and to us, cassia bark offers the same flavour as cinnamon.


  10. Kurundu

    Thanks Elizabeth. I continued with my experiment and put it in the fridge. I just threw it away about an hour ago. It was thickening a little bit but still was not slimy. Picture of your slime is pretty gross. I can imagine how the chicken curry looked if it was close to the picture. Spices is one thing I am very reluctant to buy in the stores. For last 18 years I have been buying all my spices from Sri Lanka when I visit. My freezer is full of spices from home. Even at home until last two occasions I always made my own when I go there. When my mom was there she wioll take care of all that. Then another time I washed them, dried them in the sun and took it to the mill to grind them. Last two times I had to depend on my in-laws because of the timing and rain. They bought them at a factory very close to their home. They are very good too. The reason I was reluctant to buy was spices is one thing that people can mix with other things and still hide it. I have heard they mix brick powder or something for chilli powder; turmeric add yellow colouring to flour etc. I am not sure how true these are. But I stay away from unknow sources. Curry powder is very easy to make. Mix all the ingredients and grind.

    Lucky you to have made your own spices! I’ve heard of the possibility of adulteration but have to assume that any reputable store here will be buying and selling unadulterated spices. They wouldn’t stay in business very long…. I also doubt that the versions of chili powder that have been mixed with brick powder would ever pass the stringent importation regulations. Even so, we usually buy whole dried chilis and grind them if we want chili powder. And you’re right that curry powder is easy to make (it’s nice to be able to control the amount of turmeric as well – many commercial curry powders have WAY too much turmeric for my taste); we like to toast the spices before grinding them. -Elizabeth

  11. Kurundu

    For all those who experienced slimy cinnamon. I just ate a piece of Cassia cinnamon. It is so slimy. You all should try it. I have eaten enough of ceylon cinnamon sticks. It is so different.


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