"What will my kid think of next?!" cried the caller at the other end of my phone. "My son tried to swallow a gob of cinnamon, is this dangerous?" My first thought was, what the heck (actually I used another word) is going on? Then I recalled the recent resurgence of the "Cinnamon Challenge," the latest YouTube craze where contestants attempt to gulp a teaspoon of cinnamon. Few are successful and some end up in the hospital.
For years, eating bizarre things has been a teenage right of passage. Mid century America was besieged with college students wolfing down live goldfish. The latest craze, that of attempting to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon without vomiting or inhaling, began in the early 2000's. Recent YouTube postings of such behavior have topped the million mark and beyond, and kids all over the country are trying to win this game...without much success.
The goal is to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon in sixty seconds...sounds simple enough, until we consider the properties of cinnamon. Cinnamon comes from tree bark and ground cinnamon, while a fine powder, is rough. It's characteristic pungent, tongue warming flavor and unmistakable aroma derive from potent aromatic essential oils, aldehydes, alcohols and terpinoids; these chemicals are said to have medicinal properties ranging from antioxidant activity to antiviral activity in cell experiments. Further an NIH study showed that cinnamon can improve glucose and lipid levels in some people with type II diabetes. However, the latter benefits did not require consuming a teaspoon in sixty seconds. Cinnamon tastes hot because the essential oils irritate the nerve endings within the taste buds; once in the mouth, the desire for cooling water is strong.