The Cinnamon Challenge

The Cinnamon challenge in which an individual has to eat a tablespoon of cinnamon without inhaling the cinnamon or vomiting. As what Wikipedia says, despite several video documented attempts, a few seemed to beat this challenge. Well what I'm concerned is not about the real cinnamon challenge, as I don't have any intentions to accept such challenges, but about the cinnamon challenge that our households are facing.

Ceylon cinnamon
Cinnamon, also known as Ceylon cinnamon is obtained from the inner bark of cinnamon trees (of the genus Cinnamomum), and is obviously an integral part of Indian cuisine irrespective of which region it is in India. Even though belonging to same family, cinnamon is different from cassia. Cassia is usually used as a substitute for cinnamon and is much cheaper. What makes cassia and cinnamon similar is an ingredient called coumarin, a natural flavoring and perfuming agent. Synthetic coumarin is used in cosmetics and it smells like fresh hay. Coumarin is also used medicinally to treat edemas. Even though isolated coumarin is not used in food, but spices like cinnamon has traces of coumarin in it.

Even a small quantities of coumarin can cause serious damage to liver in the form of elevated levels of liver enzymes in the blood; prolonged usage of coumarin in small quantities may even lead to jaundice. In addition, coumarin is a strong anticoagulant, where in regular excess intake of the same can result in a reduced ability for blood to coagulate. Coumarin, to be specific is a benzopyrone, a chemical compund found in plants like tonka beans, vanilla grass, woodruff, mullein and sweet grass. coumarine was banned as an adulterant in tobacco, especially in the manufacturing of cigarette. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has listed coumarin amongst the 'substances generally prohibited from direct addiction or as human food'.

Cassia cinnamon
Using the actual cinnamon, which is the ceylon cinnamon in smaller quantities may not be of much harm as it contains only traces of coumarin. But cassia cinnamon, the cheapest and the most widely used cinnamon is a serious threat. As per the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment, 1 kg of cassia cinnamon contains approximately 2100 to 4400 mg of coumarin, which is equal to 5.8 to 12.1 mg of coumarin, and this is quite an alarming rate.

In the US and the European nations, since they maintain severe regulations over the imports and usage of food products, threats from cassia cinnamon is negligible. What happens in India? Here lies the so called cinnamon challenge. Luckily sambarmen like me are hardly affected since cinnamon has no place in sambar! Even though there are restrictions on importing and selling cassia cinnamon, still the cheapest substitute is the one which is easily available in the market. Things get more complicated as the Indian household prefers ready made masala powders, which makes it difficult to make out as of which cinnamon is used in them.It is believed that the leading suppliers in the country do not import cinnamon from Sri Lanka (the native of ceylon cinnamon), instead they opt for the cheapest from China and Indonesia. They import it at a price as cheap as Rs. 23 per kg and sell it at the highest of Rs. 800 per kg!
Might be a bit harsh on the typical Indian homemaker, to make a sudden switch to the practices of good old days (when the ingredients for masala were hand picked and the masala was made at home) from the present ready made scenario. Unless and until the government gets serious on this, the only option available is to buy individual ingredients for the masala after ensuring that they are of good quality, and grinding them in the kitchen! The next probable question would be as of how to identify ceylon cinnamon from cassia cinnamon, well I googled and sourced this link- http://www.ceylon-cinnamon.com/Identify-Cinnamon.htm, it might help you.

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  1. How do we come to know whether we're buying cassia and not cinnamon??

    And how is it China crops up even in our spices!

  2. Purba, cassia could be easily identified as it has a lot of difference from ceylon cinnamon. Cassia stick is usually dark brown, thick and hard,appears like a hollow tube, has a strong aroma and tastes flat (not a bit sweeter).Ceylon cinnamon on the other hand is light brown in colour,thin and soft, filled like a cigar and is a bit sweet.
    In fact in China, Vietnam and Indonesia cassia barks are found in abundance, which obviously gives them a competitive edge. It is not these countries, but our own importers who are so greedy and make hefty profit by faking cassia for cinnamon.

  3. Wow.Liked the post.But I love cinnamon and the Lotto flavor of the chewing gum also.I had visited a Spice garden in Goa where they taught us about true spices. I guess all spices have their me too types.Take the case of hing or elichi or even cloves.The simple kadipatta has a fragrant variety and another which is bland so also dhaniya.So we live in a world of fakes and real. Only the true connoisseur will know that.

  4. Oh! that was great to know Suresh (krsnaknows). But we would easily welcome those varieties into our kitchen if they are equally good and doesn't harm our body. Cassia used to adulterate in most cases in India are definitely dangerous.


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