Hot Buns

Hey, Matt:

Why are cinnamon candies "red hot"? I have never thought the taste of a cinnamon roll or other baked good was particularly eye watering.

-- RR, SD

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. Our taste buds have components that are stimulated by touch (pain, heat, cold), not just taste. Cinnamon (like chili, mint, ginger, for example) goes straight for the touch receptors. The cinnamon taste bursts in your mouth and nose, receptors receive, streams of electrical signals zap to your temporal lobe for recombination, then on to the orbitofrontal cortex of your frontal lobe, over your right eye, for evaluation and identification. In the case of cinnamon, the touch receptors have sent HOT! signals. So the candy people are happy, but Sara Lee doesn't want to knock you out of your jammies with hot-cinnamon breakfast rolls. So she uses less of the offending oil, and when you eat the cinnamon, you're also chewing bread. And what's the best cure for chili mouth or, in this case, cinnamon mouth? A piece of bread. Or milk. Bread soaks up the oil that carries the cinnamic aldehyde; milk will combine with the oil and dilute it.

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