Like sugar being converted into carbon dioxide in a batch of cinnamon roll dough, trouble has been fermenting in Denmark over the past few months. The metaphorical yeast behind the turmoil is an EU regulation limiting the use of cassia cinnamon - the most commonly used type of cinnamon - due to concerns about a naturally occurring compound called coumarin, which can cause liver damage when consumed in large quantities. The Danish government has moved to limit cinnamon rolls' cassia content to 15 milligrams per kilogram of dough - far less than is traditionally used by Danish bakers. Media outlets - including, most recently, Modern Farmer - have quoted outraged bakers ("[I]t's time to take a stand. Enough is enough") and struck fear into the hearts of kanelsnegle lovers. (The government may reclassify the cinnamon roll, allowing it a higher cinnamon quota, in February.)
In addition to terrifying cinnamon roll aficionados, the controversy has reignited one of the most annoying foodie tropes: The idea that there is a "real cinnamon," and that cassia is not it. One Atlantic commenter responded to the news of Denmark's impending cinnamon roll ban by giving Danish bakers some unsolicited advice: "Then use real cinnamon instead of cassia. They are two different species. Real cinnamon is more expensive, but it will get you around the reg." Several Redditors also chimed in to defend "real cinnamon" against imposters: "Tell the bakers to use real cinnamon and not that cheap cassia [expletive] then," read one typical comment.
I have news for these commenters and anyone who's ever trotted out the difference between cassia and "real cinnamon" as cocktail-party small talk: There's no such thing as "real cinnamon." Or, if you insist that there is, then cassia definitely qualifies as "real."
There are dozens of species of evergreen tree belonging to the genus Cinnamomum, and the bark of many of these species is cultivated and sold as cinnamon. Two of these species are relevant to this discussion: Cassia (Cinnamomum cassia), a Chinese native that you'll find in most grocery stores under the label cinnamon, and Ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum verum), a Sri Lankan variety that's much rarer and more expensive than cassia (though available online).