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Swallowing cinnamon by the spoonful

We've been hearing a lot lately about the health benefits spices can offer; they're potent sources of antioxidants, and adding them to foods can boost nutrition without adding calories.

But adding spices to foods is one thing. Trying to swallow them by the teaspoonful is another -- and, let me say from the get-go, not an advisable -- thing altogether.

Why would anyone even think of trying such a thing? You got me. But leave it to a 13-year-old boy. Mine came home talking about the "cinnamon challenge" the other day.

Turns out there are a whole lot of people out there trying this stunt. Many are videotaping their -- or their friends' -- efforts and posting them on sites such as this.

I am glad I didn't record my son's attempt. Let's just say it wasn't pretty. He loaded up a spoon with ground, dried cinnamon straight from the spice rack and confidently put it in his mouth. That's when the sputtering, spitting and searching for water began.

Turns out swallowing a teaspoon of cinnamon is very difficult, if not impossible. But why? I asked several experts, including a California pediatrician who'd never heard of the phenomenon and couldn't quite account for its difficulty. Of course, theories abound on the Internet. The common wisdom seems to be that cinnamon dries your mouth out or prevents saliva from forming and lubricating the powder's path. But we at The Checkup don't put much stock in things we read on random Web sites.

So I'm throwing it out to any medical professionals who may happen to be reading this blog. What is it about our physiology that makes it so hard for us to choke down a teaspoon of cinnamon?

Meanwhile, let me be clear: I do NOT advise trying this or letting your kids try. I fear that someone's going to seriously choke on that dry powder or inhale it into their lungs. Let's just enjoy our cinnamon sprinkled over oatmeal or toast, okay?

Tweet me about it! Look for me and the other Local Living writers at @wposthome/local-living. And keep track of my "Me Minus 10" effort to lose 10 pounds before I turn 50 at twitter.com/jhuget.

By Jennifer LaRue Huget  |  April 5, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Family Health , General Health , Life's Big Questions , Teens  
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Comments

There are two different spices we call "cinnamon" in the US. The most common spice sold as cinnamon in the US is cassia. True cinnamon is ceylon cinnamon and much harder to buy. Cassia contains a moderately toxic chemical known as coumarin.True cinnamon, Ceylon cinnamon does not contain significant amounts of coumarin. Ceylon cinnamon lacks the burning qualities that cassia possesses and is much easier to consume in larger quantities. It is not a good idea to consume large amounts of cassia. Ceylon cinnamon reduces insulin resistance and lowers blood sugar.

I don't think most people could eat one teaspoon of virtually any spice straight. Almost all of them have quasi-medicinal properties and consuming one teaspoon straight could cause affects like hallucinations.

Posted by: elizestrada | April 5, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

Stir the cinnamon into a half cup of apple sauce. Problem solved.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | April 5, 2010 1:29 PM | Report abuse

i just happened to see this on americas funniest videos last nite. a young girl puts a mouthful in her mouth then proceeds to snort it out her nose and coughs the rest out her mouth and then runs out of the room- probably to get a drink. i'm sure every idiot out there will now go out and try it.

Posted by: astroman215aolcom | April 5, 2010 1:39 PM | Report abuse

Will you be covering the "gallon-of-milk-in-an-hour" dare tomorrow? Perhaps the Saltine challenge on Wednesday?

Meanwhile, significant research released today continues to tout the benefits of breast feeding.

Posted by: MzFitz | April 5, 2010 1:50 PM | Report abuse

Devoting a column to what ill-advised things 13 year old boys will do would be a full time job!

Posted by: sarahabc | April 5, 2010 2:14 PM | Report abuse

Kids have been trying these no brain stunts for years. If they want a real challenge they should try a teaspoon of ginger, cloves, cyan pepper, or fresh horse redish. It will sort out the dumb ones from those that have more sense. It might even keep the dumb ones from reproducing , but I doubt it.

Posted by: OldCoot1 | April 5, 2010 3:59 PM | Report abuse

The Saltine challenge!! A great party trick to play on drunk people. For those not in the know, it's the same idea: try to eat five Saltines at the same time. Impossible.

Posted by: JammyJayBird | April 5, 2010 6:16 PM | Report abuse

Here's my scientific theory. Cinnamon contains a high level of tannins, which are astringent. Astringents, according to Wikipedia:

Astringency is also the dry, puckering mouthfeel caused by tannins found in many fruits such as blackthorn, chokecherry, bird cherry, quince and persimmon fruits, and banana skins. The tannins denature the salivary proteins, causing a rough "sandpapery" sensation in the mouth. Astringency tastes unpleasant to many mammals (including humans), which tend to avoid eating astringent fruit; conversely, birds do not taste astringency and readily eat these fruit. It is thought that fruit astringency gives a selective advantage to some plant varieties because birds are better than mammals at long-distance seed dispersal, often flying a great distance before passing the seeds in their droppings.

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Posted by: maidishoes451 | April 5, 2010 11:34 PM | Report abuse

OK since you asked. The gentlemen above; one who discussed the two types of cinnamon and the other with the tannins theory are correct. Let me add my two cents: even the tasty variety of cinnamon found in stores can cause dips in blood sugar in diabetics and thinning of the blood and danger for those on anti-coagulants so no matter WHAT you read about the health benefits of cinnamon don’t order capsules; and I’m sure someone is selling them somewhere. As far as the reason we can’t stomach any ground spice easily; most cause decreased salivation; therefore difficults swallowing and then heartburn; not pleasant for most!
Kim Crawford,M.D./Anti-Aging Mind,Body,Skin Care
http://kimcrawfordmd.com

Posted by: doctorkim1 | April 6, 2010 4:55 PM | Report abuse

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