A bitter pill to swallow

  • Living
  • Tuesday, 24 Dec 2013

News that too much cinnamon can cause liver damage and amount used in food must be limited gets rise out of bakers.

IT’S a case of sugar and spice and all things not-so-nice in Denmark where cinnamon-gate is pitting Danish food authorities against the nation’s bakers. The isssue: is the spice, a staple of the Danish pastry and one of the quintessential fragrances of a Christmas kitchen, good for you or not?

For years, cinnamon has enjoyed a reputation for being something of a super spice with claims that it could help lower blood sugar, fight bacteria, reduce inflammation and help to treat polycystic ovary syndrome.

But scientists have now discovered that too much of the most commonly used type of cinnamon, cassia, can cause liver damage thanks to high levels of coumarin, a natural ingredient found in the spice. Experts now recommend a tolerable daily intake (TDI) of 0.1mg of coumarin per kilo of body weight per day.

As a result, the EU has laid down guidelines for the maximum content of coumarin in foodstuffs – 50mg per kilo of dough in traditional or seasonal foods that are only consumed occasionally, and 15mg per kilo of dough in what it terms as everyday fine baked goods.

Last month, the Danish food authority ruled that the nation’s famous cinnamon swirls were neither traditional nor seasonal, thus limiting the quantity of cinnamon that bakers are allowed to use, placing the pastry at risk – and sparking a national outcry that could be dubbed the great Danish bake strop.

The president of the Danish Bakers’ Association, Hardy Christensen, said: “We’ve been making bread and cakes with cinnamon for 200 years.

Then suddenly the government says these pastries are not traditional? I have been a baker for 43 years and never come across anything like this – it’s crazy. Using lower amounts of the spice will change the distinctive flavour and produce less tasty pastries. Normally, we do as we’re told by the government and say OK, but now it’s time to take a stand. Enough is enough.”

The union has vowed to take on the state in the great dough debate. “We understand that the government wants to keep us safe – and a child who weighs 15kg will have reached their daily dose of cinnamon by eating half a kanelsnegle – a cinnamon swirl – if we continue to have 50mg of coumarin per kilo of baked product,” said Anders Grabow of the Danish Bakers’ Association. “But if a child that young eats that much pastry every day, they’re on the fast track to obesity and cinnamon is the least of their worries.”

“The average adult Dane probably eats a pastry once or twice a week, so the actual intake of cinnamon from cinnamon swirls for most Danes is very little.”

What’s adding to the perceived injustice for many Danes is that their Swedish neighbours can carry on enjoying cinnamon buns as normal.

“Back in 2008, the Swedes elected to categorise a very similar product to our kanelsnegle as a traditional baked good, which can therefore have the higher quantity of cinnamon in it,” said Grabow. “It was assumed that Denmark would do the same so it took us by an even greater surprise when we learned about the new rules.”

Danish bakers have looked into the possibility of switching to low-coumarin Ceylon variety of the spice, said Grabow: “But it doesn’t taste like the cinnamon we know in Europe and loses a lot of its flavour when baked – so the finished product isn’t the same.”

Angry Danes want their buns reclassified quickly, but they’ll have to wait until February for a resolution of the hot baking issue. Grabow said: “We’ve agreed to assemble as much knowledge as we can on Danes’ consumption of cinnamon for a meeting with the food authority.”

And if the authorities won’t agree to recategorise the iconic pastry? “Then the kanelsnegle as we know it will be threatened.”

For now, Danish pastry lovers are stocking up on kanelsnegle while they still can – and crossing their fingers for February. – Guardian News & Media

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A bitter pill to swallow


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