Dear Matthew Alice: Why are cinnamon candies “red hot”? I have never thought the taste of a cinnamon roll or other baked good particularly eye-watering. — R.R., S.D.
Tastes that bludgeon our senses have always been popular, and the perp in the case of cinnamon is cinnamic aldehyde, the chief constituent of cinnamon oil. Like the essential oils in hot peppers, cinnamon oil reacts not only with our taste buds, but also with the sensory nerve endings that signal HOTHOTHOTHOT! (Mint reacts with our cold receptors.) Because cinnamic aldehyde is delivered in an oil, when you mix it with bread, milk, butter, or anything else that can absorb or dilute an oil, some of the edge is taken off the cinnamon jolt. (What’s the best antidote for a case of screaming jalapeno mouth? Water? No. Milk, or a tortilla. Same principle.) And obviously, the point of cinnamon Red Hots is to knock us for a loop, but I doubt that’s what Sara Lee has in mind when she whips up her buns, so she uses less flavoring to begin with. As a full-disclosure know-it-all, I must say that about 99 percent of everything sold in the U.S. as cinnamon is actually cassia, a taste-alike but cheaper relative of the true spice. It too contains cinnamic aldehyde, so it’s not a total rip-off.