Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Slate

January 23, 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
Slate
  • baby-generic.jpg For millennials, out-of-wedlock childbirth is the norm

    This month brings us yet another reminder that, for young Americans, having children outside of marriage is very much "the new normal," as The New York Times once put it.

    June 24, 2014 1 Photo

  • May 2014 was the hottest may in recorded history

    According to new data released this week, May 2014 is officially the warmest May in recorded history.
    Both NASA and the Japan Meteorological Agency have tentatively ranked May at the top of historical measurements, though NASA's numbers are preliminary because crucial information is still missing from China.

    June 20, 2014

  • GM recalls soar past 20 million. Why don't consumers care?

    In case you thought there couldn't possibly be another General Motors recall so soon, you're just not thinking big enough. This week, GM said it was recalling 3.36 million more cars. The cause: an ignition switch defect that could result in keys carrying extra weight (read: a keychain) to slip out of position and shut the vehicle off abruptly during "some jarring event."

    June 18, 2014

  • No one is against devoted dads

    Father's Day is Sunday, which means that it's time for pundits and politicians to scold the American public - with special ire reserved for black members of the American public - for our supposed indifference to the wonder and awe of fatherhood.

    June 12, 2014

  • 74129880-graduates.jpg The fate of the overeducated and underemployed

    According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, about 44 percent of young bachelor's degree holders lucky enough to be working are employed in positions that technically don't require their degree. While that number isn't far off from the historical norm — 22-year-olds have always needed a little time to find their professional footing — the fraction stuck scraping bottom in truly low-paying jobs has grown quite a bit since the recession.

    June 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Skype's real-time language translator

    This week at Re/Code's Code Conference, Microsoft announced a real-time, multilingual translation beta called Skype Translate. The service can mediate between two video chatterers who speak different languages by providing text and audio translation after each person finishes speaking. Currently the service works for English and German, but Microsoft says it will support other languages soon. The beta will be released later this year.

    May 29, 2014

  • New Orleans does away with traditional public schools

    The second-graders paraded to the Dumpster in the rear parking lot, where they chucked boxes of old work sheets, notebooks and other detritus into the trash, emptying their school for good.

    May 29, 2014

  • Amazon sells steroids and stimulants banned in sports

    I have by no means executed a comprehensive search of wares sold by Amazon directly or through its third-party sellers, but I found other prescription drugs for sale without a prescription, including the antibiotic norfloxacin and the muscle relaxant methocarbamol. Both compounds, like clindamycin, warrant careful oversight to avoid complications or endangering public health, such as by breeding antibiotic resistance.

    May 29, 2014

  • 2010-Winter-Olympic-Games-001.jpg Nobody wants to host the Winter Olympics

    If we end up watching slopestyle from the Central Asia steppes in 2022, it will likely be because it's becoming clear that nobody in Europe wants to host these Olympics anymore. Publics may finally be getting wise to the fact that the long-term economic benefits of hosting mega-events like the Olympics or the World Cup are usually negligible at best.

    May 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Woman sues a New York Hospital for forcing a C-section. Can doctors do that?

    Though Dray's doctor claims he did not force her to have a C-section, her hospital record included a note signed by the hospital's director of maternal and fetal medicine that said, "I have decided to override her refusal to have a C-section."

    May 21, 2014