Mangaluru: Nearly 500 years after the Portuguese and Dutch fought for control of cinnamon trade in Sri Lanka – then Ceylon – a lone crusader by the name Leonard John in Kerala’s Malabar region is fighting a battle that he believes is in the best interests of the nation’s health, and will reclaim pride for the spice. Leonard John, a Cinnamon planter from Kannur, is striving to make his countrymen distinguish between Cinnamon and its look-alike, Cassia, arguing that ignorance to differentiate the two may not only make you the loser at the retail outlet, but cause potentially serious health issues. Cassia is corky, stouter in appearance, no aroma like Cinnamon, and differs from genuine Cinnamon.
Leonard John, the grandson of (Late) Dr P I Mathew MD-(who was a District Medical Officer in Mangaluru, Madras and Calicut, a Lt Col in British Army and also a planter) was in the City to address the media persons during a press meet held at Mangalore Press Club.”It’s a rip-off on consumers that is happening across the country as retail outlets are selling Cassia disguised as Cinnamon. Cassia costs about Rs 60-65 per kg , whereas cinnamon costs roughly Rs 325-350 per kg. Consumers are put at health risk by consuming cassia”, said John, who carries on undeterred even after a death threat, apparently by importers of cheap Cassia who pass it off as cinnamon.
“Rampant substitution of Cassia for cinnamon began after western nations banned Cassia. Until then, Cassia and Cinnamon commanded near-equal prices, but following the ban, Cassia prices plummeted almost 90%. Importers pounced on the opportunity to sell Cassia disguised as cinnamon, leaving little demand for real Cinnamon. Cassia imports are mostly from China and Indonesia, and are freely available in grocery stores. I have petitioned officialdom from the Rashtrapathi Bhavan to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, the United Planters’ Association of Southern India to the Director General of Foreign Trade, and the Central Vigilance Commission to the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence. Not to much avail, thus far” he added.
John’s battle to highlight the difference between cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum) and cassia (Cinnamomum cassia) has borne some fruit. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India has acknowledged that the opinion of the Indian Institutes of Toxicological Research, Lucknow is that cinnamon and cassia belong to entirely different families. And also just recently the Chief minister of Tamilnadu has completely banned the sale of Cassia in TN. But still imported Cassia is being sold as cinnamon in the domestic market in many states, including Karnataka. The food safety council’s stand is that the main ingredients of cinnamon are anthraquinone derivatives, instead of coumarin present in cassia. John would point out, with the Wikipedia to back him, that coumarin is used by pharma companies in manufacture of rodenticide, and that its consumption can hurt the kidney and liver.
John further said, ” When large quantities of Cassia are imported and sold in domestic markets, it affects Cinnamon farmers. Cinnamon is a flavouring agent, while Cassia which may look like Cinnamon is very harmful to health. Cassia is being imported from Vietnam and Malaysia in large scale for a lesser price and sold to customer at higher price. Although the Food Safety and Standards Act-2006 and Rules -2011 has prohibited sale of Cassia which is hazardous to health, but still it is being sold openly in stores. I urge the government to check into the illegal sale of Cassia. Like Tamilnadu has banned Cassia, Karnataka should take quick steps to ban this illegal spice duplicating Cinnamon”.
Yes, Leonard John who is on a mission on behalf of thousands of true Ceylon Cinnamon farmers of India and millions of Indians in the nation who are cheated by buying Cassia instead of “true Cinnamon” which is used in Ayurveda, masala, spice for food, he wants to bring awareness among the consumers that replacing Cassia from Cinnamon is not a good idea, because Cassia contains high quantity of Coumarin (injurious to health), it causes kidney and liver damages. “As per provisions of the Food Safety and Standards Act-2006 and Rule-2011, those who sell and manufacture unsafe items like Cassia should be prosecuted, but sadly the Food Safety Commissioner is reluctant to interfere in this issue” says Leonard.
The crusade has been treacherous for John financially and physically. John has fought the lure to chop off his cinnamon plants like many of his peers have done to get into the more lucrative rubber plantation sector. And the death threat he received for his efforts to get real cinnamon on Indian plates, means there are police cases registered in Kannur, Kozhikode and Thrissur districts. John is appalled that retailers are not keen to inform consumers. Retailers he says, take the attitude that it’s not their duty to educate clients. But the cinnamon planter is keen to ensure that cinnamon plantations in the country – mostly in north Kerala, and Mangaluru – do not fade into the horizon. The Anjarakandy estate in Malabar established by the British is considered Asia’s largest, and Kerala has some 1,400 acres of cinnamon cultivation.
So beware-next time you go shopping for Cinnamon spice but decide to buy Cassia since it is much cheaper than the former, but remember sooner or later you may land up in huge hospital bills?