The Science Behind the Cinnamon Challenge
What is the Cinnamon Challenge?
The Cinnamon Challenge is pretty simple. All you need is a tablespoon of ground cinnamon, a webcam and a total disregard for self-preservation. If you can eat the cinnamon without aid – no water, no applesauce – you win.
Why is cinnamon so hard to swallow?
The spice that magically transforms dough and sugar into a sticky bun is actually ground up tree bark, which means we’re talking about a lot of water-resistant cellulose. And according to retired physical chemist Vince Calder, the rest is “a mixture of volatile organic compounds, a major component being [cinnamaldehyde]*, which is not very water soluble.”
Is the Cinnamon Challenge dangerous?
In a word, yes. Coating your tongue, gums and throat with moisture-slaying dust is a little like greeting a sandstorm with an open mouth. Without lubrication (saliva), you can’t perform deglutition (swallowing). And if you can’t swallow right away, eventually, you’ll have to breathe.
This is where the Cinnamon Challenge gets dangerous. Panic transmogrifies your breaths into gasps. And if you thought cinnamon was rough on the palate, imagine what it’ll do to your pretty pink lungs.
The body doesn’t take kindly to massive amounts of foreign material gumming up its alveoli – the tiny sacs in mammal lungs that exchange Carbon Dioxide for Oxygen. Once inside, the body treats cinnamon like an invading army and fights it with inflammation. This can cause pneumonia. Long-term, it can mean heavy scarring or reduced lung capacity
Still feeling spicy?
In 2011, the American Association of Poison Control Center’s National Poison Data System recorded 51 calls regarding teens and cinnamon. As of the end of March 2012, the AAPCC is already up to 139. Which means kids are still doing it, despite more than enough evidence to suggest cinnamon swallowing is one of the more idiotic fads you can get into – not the least of which are literally hundreds of thousands of videos that show it to be nearly impossible.
So let’s add another reason to stay away. Liver damage. Cinnamon contains a chemical compound called coumarin that, when ingested in large quantities, can cause liver damage in particularly sensitive individuals. Sie Germans even considered regulating coumarin levels in Christmas cookies. (Worse off are rats and mice – they metabolize coumarin differently than us, producing cancer.)