cinnamon sticks on a table and in a small dish

Why is cinnamon spicy?

Cinnamon is spicy — but in a different way than chili peppers. While the spiciness of chili peppers largely comes from a chemical called capsaicin, cinnamon contains very little capsaicin.

So, why is it spicy then?

Cinnamon has two compounds, in addition to trace amounts of capsaicin, that make it spicy: cinnamaldehyde and eugenol. The combination of the three — a small amount of capsaicin, cinnamaldehyde, and eugenol make cinnamon taste spicy and feel burning in your mouth, and when inhaled cinnamon causes an intense cough reflex and runny nose.

You’ll notice these symptoms if you see videos of the “cinnamon challenge” which has gone viral on multiple occasions. The cinnamon challenge involves consuming one tablespoon of cinnamon powder without any water for 60 seconds.

Where does cinnamon land on the Scoville scale?

One of the most popular questions when talking about any type of spicy food is, what is its Scoville rating (SHU)? The Scoville scale is a popular way to quantify just how spicy something is, and it’s fun to compare and contrast different chili peppers and hot sauces to understand how they stack up against one another.

While cinnamon is undeniably spicy, it would not rank on the Scoville scale. That’s because Scoville Heat Units is measuring the dilution of capsaicin, which cinnamon has only small amounts of. So, cinnamon would likely have a Scoville rating of 0, yet it’s still a spicy ingredient. Similarly, the Scoville scale will not measure spicy foods like horseradish and wasabi, which also don’t contain capsaicin.

Hot cinnamon candies

Similarly, some popular cinnamon candies like Red Hots are spicy because they contain cinnamon oil, which has cinnamaldehyde and eugenol. But these cinnamon candies have little (if any) capsaicin, so they would not rank on the Scoville scale like chili peppers or hot sauce. Other cinnamon candies, like Atomic Fireballs, don’t actually have any cinnamon-derived ingredients, but instead are made spicy with capsaicin, the compound that makes chili peppers spicy.

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