If you’ve only ever tried processed powdered cinnamon you may be thinking “Is cinnamon really spicy?”, but give a cinnamon stick a shot or try some fiery cinnamon candies. It can be as spicy as some of the milder hot peppers easily.
So what is cinnamon exactly and what gives it its surprising kick? There’s a lot to this staple spice that you may not have realized, including the fact that you’re topping your cappuccino with tree bark.
What is Cinnamon?
Cinnamon is tree bark. That’s right. It’s the interior bark of one of many trees that come from the genus cinnaomomum. There are over a dozen trees in this genus that produce cinnamon variants, and all can be called cinnamon in terms of the spice they produce. But the two most common types are Cinnamonum verum (called Ceylon cinnamon or true cinnamon) and Cassia (called Chinese cinnamon).
So how hot is cinnamon?
Cinnamon is a lot hotter than people give it credit for, primarily because much of the cinnamon we eat is in powdered form and has been likely sitting on a coffee stand or spice rack for months. There’s not much kick left in that powder by that time. If you tried some fresh ground cinnamon instead, you may be surprised by the pungency that’s there. It can feel as hot as some of milder hot peppers on the Scoville scale.
What makes cinnamon spicy?
It all comes from the essential oil in the tree bark itself. There’s a chemical compound in it named cinnamaldehyde, and it’s a potent one. When extracted from the bark and used in concentrated form, cinnamaldehyde is a serious skin irritant and it can be used as an insect repellent and fungicide. This is a seriously strong compound. And like with the capsaicin in hot peppers, your body responds to cinnamaldehyde as an irritant causing the fiery kick.
Why are cinnamon candies so hot?
Cinnamon candies use this cinnamon oil extract that contains highly concentrated levels of cinnamaldehyde, so they can have a pretty significant bump up in overall heat. The more fiery the cinnamon candy claims, the more concentrated the extract (and the more used), the hotter the candy.
Is cinnamon good for you?
What’s “The Cinnamon Challenge”?
There are some people out there that like to do crazy things. The Cinnamon Challenge is one of them.
The idea is to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon dry, swallowing it with no help from liquids. Because cinnamon is bark and has binding properties, this is really hard to do. The process can be very painful, especially when it gets stuck in the mouth and throat and you cough up the cinnamon (looking like dragon breath).
If you have breathing or asthma problems, this powder can trigger an immediate asthma attack, so label this as do not try at home. Forbes has a great article on why taking this challenge is a health risk.
Where is cinnamon used?
It’s used in so many foods and beverages. Cinnamon is very popular in sweet foods like breakfast pastries and desserts. It’s also a big part of spicy Indian and Asian cuisines. Cinnamon candies are a huge market – from chewing gum to Red Hots and more.
So this is a surprising spice in many ways. Not only does cinnamon have a long history, it’s highly versatile and uncommonly fiery, and that’s why we love it as much as we do.