Mt. Vernon Register-News

Community News Network

January 22, 2014

How threats to danish pastries spawned a debate over 'real cinnamon'

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).

If you took Latin in high school, you will notice that Ceylon cinnamon's scientific name translates to "true cinnamon." It's a hop, skip and a jump from Cinnamomum verum to "real cinnamon." But it's a hollow term. Scientific names for plants are often arbitrary and metaphorical. White mustard, for instance, goes by the classification Sinapis alba, which translates as "bright mustard" or "favorable mustard," but no one goes around arguing that white mustard is better than brown mustard just because of its name. And yet people have insisted on taking Ceylon cinnamon's biological classification literally.

By no meaningful definition is Ceylon cinnamon more "real" than cassia. Both belong to the genus Cinnamomum. Both are ground into powders that can deliciously flavor cookies, yeast breads and tagines. Both have been used as spices (and medicine) for centuries. It's not as though cassia is some synthetic laboratory creation that's being nefariously passed off as natural. Cinnamomum cassia is a real plant.

Perhaps more importantly, if you live in the U.S. (or Denmark, apparently), virtually every single cinnamon-flavored thing you have ever tasted in your life has contained cassia, not Ceylon cinnamon. De facto, in 21st-century American kitchens, cassia is cinnamon, and cinnamon is cassia.

Now, this does not mean that Ceylon cinnamon doesn't taste better than cassia. Many people believe that it does, and their opinions are just as valid as any other opinion concerning taste. The fact that cassia is just as real as Ceylon cinnamon also doesn't nullify any health concerns about cassia: For your liver's sake, you should probably not be consuming enormous quantities of it.

But please stop insisting that Ceylon cinnamon is the only "real" cinnamon. All that label does is make people who like cassia feel that their preferences are somehow inauthentic. And that's a real shame.

 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • Why do wolves howl?

    Of all the myths that dog the wolf, none is more widely accepted than the idea that wolves howl at the moon. Images of wolves with their heads upturned, singing at the night sky, are as unquestioned as a goldfish's three-second memory or a dog's color-blindness (both also myths).

    April 18, 2014

  • quake.jpg Pennsylvania won’t take action following Ohio ruling on quakes, fracking

    Pennsylvania officials plan no action despite new Ohio rules on drilling that affect a seismically active area near the state line.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 17, 2014

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 17, 2014

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 16, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

  • treadmill-very-fast.jpg Tax deduction for a gym membership?

    April marks another tax season when millions of Americans will deduct expenses related to home ownership, children and education from their annual tax bill. These deductions exist because of their perceived value to society; they encourage behaviors that keep the wheels of the economy turning. So why shouldn't the tax code be revised to reward preventive health?

    April 15, 2014 1 Photo

  • Google acquires drone maker Titan Aerospace to spread Internet

    Google is adding drones to its fleets of robots and driverless cars.
    The Internet search company said it acquired Titan Aerospace, the maker of high-altitude, solar-powered satellites that provides customer access to data services around the world. Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

    April 14, 2014

Twitter Updates
Facebook
Stocks