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No real American cinnamon?
April 22, 2012 10:47 AM   Subscribe

"Fake Cinnamon Joins Artificial Vanilla and Wins" So you think you know the difference between natural and artificial?
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies (71 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
The bit about the Romans boiling grape juice in lead pots and sprinkling the resulting lead acetate on their food for sweetness… good god. Those poor bastards. I always wonder how things would have turned out had there not been an abundance of lead deposits in western Europe for them to find.
posted by spitefulcrow at 11:01 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Lead acetate was used far more recently than that.
posted by Sys Rq at 11:07 AM on April 22, 2012




The thing about cassia being labeled as "cinnamon" in the US is eye-opening to me. I'd always wondered why what passes as cinnamon flavour in the US doesn't taste at all like cinnamon to my European tastebuds.
posted by Skeptic at 11:15 AM on April 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


Totally interesting blog.

Our palates have become pretty clumsy because most of our food is full of additives and food-chemistry 'enhancements' to flavor.
posted by Miko at 11:40 AM on April 22, 2012


That's pretty much opposite the point of the blog, which is that humans have been using "artificial flavors" since at least Roman times and that the distinction is in many ways arbitrary.
posted by Justinian at 11:47 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I had two reactions to this. Each, individually, I'd take as perfectly appropriate for the article. But together? They felt very strange.

First, I felt great anxiety and frustration. The article really highlights how incredibly misleading labeling on food products are (and, furthermore, that there may not be such a thing as non-misleading labeling guidelines). It makes me realize just how little I understand about the food I buy and, furthermore, just how unlikely it is I'd ever be able to do enough research to understand it better. It also highlights that, historically, additives in food have been incredibly dangerous. Mucking around with what people eat can be risky. And, in our society, it's very hard to not eat things that have been mucked around with.

Second, though, right as I was feeling that great anxiety and frustration, I also experienced a wave of relief. The article also highlights that concern about "natural" ingredients often misses the point--what counts as natural or not, when it comes to food labeling, is backwards and crazy. Furthermore, it's just as possible (if not more so) to get high quality, delicious, and healthy food made from those "misleading," "unnatural" ingredients than the real one. It's a fool's errand, in other words, to focus on avoiding all those unnatural additives--that's concerning oneself with ridiculous marketing labeling, rather than the actual product being labeled.

So, I don't know. I guess I shall think about this very hard whenever I shop, without it ever actually making a difference to my final purchase decisions.
posted by meese at 11:47 AM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


They left out castoreum, a secretion from beavers used as 'natural flavoring'.
posted by elsietheeel at 11:48 AM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


'Round these parts, it's pronounced SIM-UH-NIN, because that's how the kid said it and now we're all stuck like that.

See also: A-SIGH-TED, you know, for when you're feeling worked up.
posted by spikeleemajortomdickandharryconnickjrmints at 11:54 AM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


I want a cinnamalogus so bad
posted by threeants at 12:01 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Our palates have become pretty clumsy because most of our food is full of additives and food-chemistry 'enhancements' to flavor.

I've noticed this. I was raised on cheap supermarket foods, packets of sauce mix consisting mostly of gums and starches and stabilizers and crap like that, but as an adult I've gravitated toward fresh food and paying a lot of attention to where ingredients come from. One effect is that now I get no enjoyment from snacking on packaged, mass-market prepared foods. I tried a nutri-grain (Kellogg's) snack bar at the office the other day. Underneath the obvious flavors there was a strong note of dust (as in poorly stored commodity flour kept viable with spoilage retarding agents) and rancid oils (as in, well, rancid oils). And that's just one example. Even things like Fritos, which I used to love, taste like a heavily salted mix of cork, sawdust and not-very-fresh commodity corn oil.

Furthermore, it's just as possible (if not more so) to get high quality, delicious, and healthy food made from those "misleading," "unnatural" ingredients than the real one.

That's an extravagant claim, to put it mildly. It might be more reasonable to suggest that in manufactured prepared foods that wouldn't taste like anything if you didn't add flavors, you'll probably get better and maybe even more wholesome (to the extent that you haven't robbed that word of meaning at this point) results if you use the isolated chemicals that are associated with the flavors than try to do it with plant extracts. But this says nothing about natural ingredients in general, only about junk food in general. In any event I agree. Don't bother wasting real food on trying to flavor cheap-yet-overpriced detritus. Just fake it up in the lab.
posted by George_Spiggott at 12:09 PM on April 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


So "Error establishing a database connection" is just me? My internet is being crappy ATM, so I can't tell if it's me.
posted by maryr at 12:11 PM on April 22, 2012


That's pretty much opposite the point of the blog, which is that humans have been using "artificial flavors" since at least Roman times and that the distinction is in many ways arbitrary.

Well sure. But it's not the opposite of the point. And though it's in some ways arbitrary, it's not a value-free distinction.
posted by Miko at 12:12 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Me too, maryr.
posted by Susan PG at 12:14 PM on April 22, 2012


Me three. We hardly ever slashdot things any more - so rare in fact that I wonder if that term is even recognized.
posted by Miko at 12:17 PM on April 22, 2012


Me 4.
posted by I'm Brian and so's my wife! at 12:20 PM on April 22, 2012


While I like the article very well (and I'm glad that Alia made the FPP), I have to admit I'm a little leery of describing "fake cinnamon" as "artificial." As the article describes, what we buy in the U.S. as "cinnamon" is actually cassia -- or, if you buy it from a spice merchant like Penzeys, "cassia cinnamon." Unlike vanillin, which is a synthetic alternative to vanilla, cassia isn't a synthetic. It's just a different genus of Cinnamomum.

(Just to be clear, I'm not making a "natural : synthetic :: healthy : unhealthy" argument here. While I'm not crazy about the taste of vanillin, or about most synthetics in general, I recognize that some of them are okay, and that natural stuff can be dangerous for some people, viz: the coumarin in cassia, which inhibits blood clotting. I'm just interpreting "artificial" in the context of "lab-synthesized," even as I recognize that this is the top of a slippery slope. Maybe I should quit while I'm ahead.)

I do remember, about ten years ago (I'll have to google for the right date), Cooks Illustrated did a blind taste test of various brands of cinnamon. Most of the cinnamon they tested was actually cassia, because that's what "cinnamon" is in the U.S., so for comparison's sake, they included a sample of Sri Lankan "true cinnamon" from Penzeys. Sure enough, the test subjects described the true cinnamon as "weak" and "fake." Surprise, surprise, they didn't even know that there was such a thing as "true cinnamon," and they had failed to identify it. (I felt like there was a little element of "gotcha" there, kind of like when taste testers preferred the taste of vanillin in baked goods and soy chips in chocolate chip cookies, but my own issues with Cooks Illustrated are best left for another day.

Myself, I use both cassia and cinnamon in baking. I get mine from Penzeys, and the first time I tasted samples of both, I had not realized how sweet they both were, without any added sugar. The cassia I buy is from Vietnam; it's pretty much the cinnamon most of us Americans grew up with, although much stronger and sweeter and with higher quantities of cineole and cinnemarole. The true cinnamon is from Sri Lanka. It's very sweet and it doesn't have that forward "hot" hit that cassia does, but it does have a pronounced citrus note (mostly lemon). Generally I'll use whichever one suits the mood, but if I'm baking from a British or Mexican recipe, I'll use true cinnamon for that.
posted by bakerina at 12:27 PM on April 22, 2012 [16 favorites]


Soma’s contention was that, because most of the additional compounds that add subtle extra notes to natural flavours burn off at the high temperatures required to bake cookies, paying extra for the natural extract and Ceylon cinnamon was a waste. Lohman, who had spent the entire day in the kitchen preparing the cookies, begged to differ.

In the end, the audience blind taste test proved Soma correct: by a solid two-to-one margin, Brooklyn’s cookie eaters prefer fake cinnamon and artificial vanilla.


The only thing of importance is that they did taste different. Pick whichever you like, I don't care. Hell, I just eat a Pillsbury Pizza Pocket! Just don't lie about what it is.
posted by Chuckles at 12:32 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I thought maybe this would be an article about that weird fake cinnamon flavoring they use in some breath mints and candies. The weird its kind of close to cinnamon but not really flavor that is super gross. Does anyone know what the hell that flavor is? It's not cassia, I didn't realize I was eating that all along, but since I have cinnamon from vietnam, I must be and that's good stuff. I doubt it's real cinnamon, it's not that it is weaker than what I am used to, it takes more like someone tried to fake it with a bunch of mints instead.

I didn't see it mentioned in the article, but maple and artificial maple are the same deal. I prefer the artificial maple because that's what I grew up with - my mother, who had access to real maple growing up preferred that but got us the artificial stuff because of cost. I suspect most americans prefer the imitation maple.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 12:49 PM on April 22, 2012


Most of the cinnamon they tested was actually cassia, because that's what "cinnamon" is in the U.S., so for comparison's sake, they included a sample of Sri Lankan "true cinnamon" from Penzeys. Sure enough, the test subjects described the true cinnamon as "weak" and "fake." Surprise, surprise, they didn't even know that there was such a thing as "true cinnamon," and they had failed to identify it.

Yes, this is the kind of thing I mean. I'm involved in Slow Food and one of our basic activities is taste education. If you taste a range of foods that are specifically identified for you, you are much better at perceiving their differences.

One of the first tastings I ever did compared fresh, basic orange carrots and fresh bell peppers from a garden with ones from the store. A lot of people liked the fresh veggies but misidentified the source - the milder pepper and carrot from the store seemed more like a "true" flavor to them. This is something that can only come about when the reference standard you're using for"carrot-ness" is something that has come a long way from the fresh flavor of carrot. is

You can't be expected to identify a true flavor if you've never tasted one; and the way your palate is developed and educated and habitually used determines a lot about what you like, don't like, and can identify at all in flavorings.

And I don't contest the human tendency to manipulate flavor which underlies all cooking, nor the way which at some levels the difference between "natural" and "artificial" is meaningless - when molecules are functionally the same regardless of source, that's undeniable, though there are other ways of considering the full context of the derivation of that flavor that raise important questions. But it's also true that the more you eat highly manipulated and sometimes even disguised flavors, the less you can compare what you're tasting to the full range.

I also agree that it's quite misleading to call cassia "fake cinnamon." It's what we know as the flavor of cinnamon, even if our nomenclature is off. The exercise would be useful as a way of illustrating the taste differences between cassia and cinnamon, but it's not very useful as a way of saying "ha ha, you like fake cinnamon and you didn't even know it." The conclusion:
I am bizarrely proud to say that I was in the minority that liked the taste of the “naturally” flavoured cookie more; I’d speculate that that’s not due to a particularly sophisticated palate, but rather because I grew up in cassia-free England and have never developed an American love for strong cinnamon flavours.
is kind of my point -- palates are enculturated toward certain preferences, and these preferences are not only individual, they're largely socially constructed. By tasting with knowledge and education, you can develop a lot more understanding of what you're tasting and make useful distinctions between flavors, even in many cases changing your preferences -as George Spiggott relates.
posted by Miko at 12:51 PM on April 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


The weird its kind of close to cinnamon but not really flavor that is super gross.

It might not be a single flavor. One of the weirdest things about modern flavor science is that flavor chemists sort of work impresionistically and abstractly, trying to create the mood, feeling, or illusion of a flavor instead of faithfully recreate it in its exactness. There is a section of Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation that explores this as it looks at the creation of McDonald's fry flavor, and this piece in the New Yorker was really interesting (full article available here) . It might seem unrelated, but since flavor is largely aroma, the book The Secret of Scent by Luca Turin on the science of aromas and perfumery is also really enlightening on this topic.
posted by Miko at 12:57 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]




Well I for one would have no problem with cassia being called "false cinnamon" or something along those lines. People in the U.K. grow up thinking that a certain thing is pizza which totally is not and I wouldn't want real pizza to be redefined by what is served in British restaurants as pizza. (American pizza - totally the real thing over Italian pizza, though.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:04 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


An example similar to the cassia/cinnamon thing: I love pumpkin pie but virtually all pumpkin pie tastes far too sweet to me. Why? Because when I was growing up my mother made pumpkin pie every Thanksgiving and Christmas... except she would always use half as much sugar as the recipe called for. So now "pumpkin pie" is to me a lot less sweet and a lot more pumpkiny than what most other people think of as pumpkin pie and I can't eat the more typical sort.

Everyone else is wrong, though, and pumpkin pie is hugely improved by using less sugar.
posted by Justinian at 1:13 PM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


I can't even figure out what's an American pizza any more. I agree that American thin crust pizza is something different from a true Naples pizza. But I think that pizza is way more superior to other pizzas sometimes considered more American - thick-crust, Domino's/Greek-style/Pizza Hut pizza, Chicago pizza, French bread pizza, etc. ALl variations on a theme, but I only really like NY/NJ thin-crust pizza that's not all that far removed from Naples style.
posted by Miko at 1:14 PM on April 22, 2012


Cassia would be a very harsh smoke, while puffing of a smouldering cinnamon stick was an occasional teenage pleasure.
posted by scruss at 1:18 PM on April 22, 2012


ALl variations on a theme, but I only really like NY/NJ thin-crust pizza that's not all that far removed from Naples style.

I think we can all agree that Tesco's frozen spam pizza with ketchup as sauce is far beyond the pale, though. As is most American frozen pizza, of course.
posted by XMLicious at 1:32 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I thought maybe this would be an article about that weird fake cinnamon flavoring they use in some breath mints and candies."

When I was in high school I worked for a while at a place in a commercial/industrial park where there was also an artificial scent/flavor company, that developed food smells (and maybe tastes, I'm not sure) for various consumer applications. Some days there was no smell, some days it was faint, and some days it ENVELOPED THE ENTIRE AREA. Sometimes it smelled delicious, and other times it smelled foul ... particularly bad were smells that were just a little bit off from what "baking cookies" should smell like, so it sort-of made you hungry and nauseated at the same time.

The two absolute worst ones, though, were fake strawberry, which was like those old Strawberry Shortcake scratch-n-sniff stickers, but like BATHING IN IT, and fake buttered popcorn, which was just a horrifying scent -- not even like chemical-microwave-popcorn fake, but ten times chemical-ier. One of the secretaries in the office where I worked had to go home because she kept gagging. Nobody ate lunch either of those days because everything smelled so strongly you couldn't taste properly.

My boss said he thought they did like jelly bean flavors sometimes, like for jelly-belly-type beans where they do all sorts of flavors (the buttered popcorn did sort-of smell like a jelly-belly buttered-popcorn bean tastes), though he wasn't sure. When they came out with real-life Bertie Botts' Every-Flavored Beans, all I could think was how horrifying it would have been to be working in that industrial park when they were working on BOOGER FLAVOR or VOMIT FLAVOR.

Anyway, that sort of thing is probably what you tasted.

(I also went to high school downwind of a soup factory; I couldn't eat vegetable soup for years after. High school was just a non-stop olfactory assault, separate and apart from the existence of high school boys and their sweat.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:40 PM on April 22, 2012 [7 favorites]


I suspect most americans prefer the imitation maple.

Not this one. And you might have some disagreement from people living in the Northeast, especially Vermont.
posted by Splunge at 1:46 PM on April 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


From the article:
On the other hand, the vanillin synthesised from cow dung by Japanese scientist Mayu Yamomoto (an achievement for which he received the 2007 IgNobel Prize for Chemistry) would not be considered a natural flavour, because cow dung is not currently considered to be food, at least by humans.
From the IgNobel Prize list:
CHEMISTRY PRIZE: Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of Japan, for developing a way to extract vanillin -- vanilla fragrance and flavoring -- from cow dung.
REFERENCE: "Novel Production Method for Plant Polyphenol from Livestock Excrement Using Subcritical Water Reaction," Mayu Yamamoto, International Medical Center of Japan.
WHO ATTENDED THE CEREMONY: Mayu Yamamoto
PRESS NOTE: Toscanini's Ice Cream, the finest ice cream shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, created a new ice cream flavor in honor of Mayu Yamamoto, and introduced it at the Ig Nobel ceremony. The flavor is called "Yum-a-Moto Vanilla Twist."
Lol.

---
Our palates have become pretty clumsy because most of our food is full of additives and food-chemistry 'enhancements' to flavor.
Our Palates are "clumsy"? See this is the kind of stuff that annoys me about people who obsess about the providence of various foods. First the argument is that "Natural" stuff is supposed to taste better, gosh darn it, and if we don't prefer those tastes that means we are Tasting it Wrong!!!.

That just seems like such a ridiculous attitude to me. I say if it tastes good, eat it. Why should we care if it's "true" cinnamon or the bark of some other similar tree? Why does it matter if you get vanillin from true vanilla beans or from fermented corn?

Seems like an inordinate amount of worry over nothing.
posted by delmoi at 1:51 PM on April 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'll vote for 'it depends'. I'm one of those people who prefer Diet Coke to real Coke (don't like corn syrup, don't mind artificial sweeteners) but I won't buy artificial vanilla, since it just tastes wrong to me.

Mind you, I use it to flavour hot sweetened milk and various chocolate/vanilla drinks, so heat doesn't have an impact on the flavour the way an oven would. But I still notice the difference, even in cookies.

And it took me years to realize the reason Mom's peanut butter cookies were so chewy and good was because she used salted hard margarine and salted cheapo peanut butter. When I finally went out and bought these awful ingredients, I wound up with awesome cookies.
posted by jrochest at 2:22 PM on April 22, 2012


I got the database error, but then got a connection later. So don't give up.
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:30 PM on April 22, 2012


fake buttered popcorn, which was just a horrifying scent

Errr . . . horrifying more ways than one, perhaps?
posted by flug at 2:36 PM on April 22, 2012


> While I like the article very well (and I'm glad that Alia made the FPP), I have to admit I'm a little leery of describing "fake cinnamon" as "artificial." As the article describes, what we buy in the U.S. as "cinnamon" is actually cassia -- or, if you buy it from a spice merchant like Penzeys, "cassia cinnamon." Unlike vanillin, which is a synthetic alternative to vanilla, cassia isn't a synthetic. It's just a different genus of Cinnamomum.

Agreed. I encourage spicegeekery like knowing that cassia and cinnamon are two different spices (and similarly, that Mediterranean oregano is different than Mexican oregano) because there's big world of spices out there to play with. Cassia isn't "fake," though.
posted by desuetude at 2:40 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


I always counter the "natural" insistence from my hippyish friends with, "uranium is natural". Shuts them right up.
posted by taff at 2:46 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Raised on Log Cabin pancake syrup, real maple syrup was a huge disappointment when I finally tried it.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:50 PM on April 22, 2012


Artificial strawberry, however, is an abomination after years of eating real strawberries while picking them at the local U-Pick farm.
posted by double block and bleed at 2:54 PM on April 22, 2012


De gustibus, and all that.
posted by darkstar at 3:16 PM on April 22, 2012


I was at that lecture! I preferred the real-vanilla-and-cinnamon cookie, too, as it was a subtle enough flavor to let the rest of the cookie taste shine through. However, it was the first one I tried; had I eaten that cookie second, I think there's a good chance I would've found it weak and boring in comparison to the fake-vanilla one.

I suspect most americans prefer the imitation maple.

Heavens. I wonder if that's true. I remember the first time I had fake maple syrup, at a friend's house as a kid, I was completely flummoxed by the totally non-maple-like taste. It was as though someone had said "Would you like a glass of milk?" and then poured me a big glass of grape soda, saying, "What? That's milk, in our household."
posted by Greg Nog at 3:21 PM on April 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


It's odd how skewed our perception of "natural" is. I grew up in an area of the world where most produce was trucked in, and calling it fresh would be exceptionally generous. Suffice to say, there wasn't a lot of variety in what was available. I was gobsmacked when I discovered that that nasty, harsh chemical scent/flavour combo that was marketed as "grape" was actually pretty close to concord grapes, which simply aren't available in Newfoundland.
posted by peppermind at 3:30 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Seems like an inordinate amount of worry over nothing.

This reminds me a lot of the recent discussion about how to define a "vegetable serving" for school lunch purposes.

It's easy to sit back and second guess and find the contradictions in any bureaucratic system to define different foods, create labeling requirements, and all the rest but the reason we need to do that as a society is plain and pretty well laid out in the article:
Rapid urbanisation in both Britain and (a little later) the United States created a new distance between food producers and consumers, and, as historian Bee Wilson has written in her excellent history of food fraud, "adulteration thrives when trade operates in large, impersonal chains."

Eventually, public outcry over formaldehyde-laced milk, copper sulphate-green peas, and Upton Sinclair’s sausage led to government action: Britain passed the first in a series of Adulteration Acts in 1860, and, by the early twentieth century, the U.S. FDA came into being to enforce the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906.
"Large, impersonal chain" pretty well sums up how we get almost all of our food in the industrialized world.

That is why we see both efforts to shorten up and re-personalize the chain (like the slow food and local agriculture movements) and the efforts to improve regulations, inspections, and labeling requirements--without which industrial agriculture becomes untenable (unless you LIKE to ingest the formaldehyde, copper sulphate, and so on).
posted by flug at 3:42 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


> Our Palates are "clumsy"? See this is the kind of stuff that annoys me about people who obsess about the providence of various foods. First the argument is that "Natural" stuff is supposed to taste better, gosh darn it, and if we don't prefer those tastes that means we are Tasting it Wrong!!!. That just seems like such a ridiculous attitude to me. I say if it tastes good, eat it. Why should we care if it's "true" cinnamon or the bark of some other similar tree? Why does it matter if you get vanillin from true vanilla beans or from fermented corn?

I agree that framing this as Tasting It Wrong is both unhelpful and beside the point. That sentiment gets used in both directions. Vanilla/Vanillin is a perfect example. I don't want use of vanilla distinguished from vanillin for purposes of taste-shaming, or because synthetic flavors are eevvvil. I just don't want to hear vanillin and vanilla lumped together as "the same."

First of all, while they're under the same umbrella of what people understand as "vanilla," they're different that qualification on the ingredients label is useful. See also chocolate (milk vs dark) or chile (cayenne vs habanero). Secondly, I don't think that companies are all confused about how the principle of "financial value" works -- surely they would not want to pay the higher price for vanilla and get sent vanillin instead.

Meanwhile, how many different ways do we need to prove that upholding standards for clear labeling of ingredients is important to prevent fraud and protect public health? Instead of putting a lot of energy and money into creating compromised, meaningless catch-all definitions of "artificial" and "natural," they should just list the ingredient (vanilla or vanillin) and be subject to disclosure/audits on origin (cow-dung versus wood pulp).
posted by desuetude at 3:46 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


They left out castoreum, a secretion from beavers used as 'natural flavoring'.

I had to do a speech in college on the topic of food, so I went with some interesting facts about artificial and natural flavorings. Castoreum was one of my surprising/horrifying facts about natural flavorings. My favorite line from my speech: "What I want to know is who was the first guy who found this stuff in the butt of a dead beaver and thought, man, this would be good in some ice cream!"
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:51 PM on April 22, 2012 [6 favorites]


delmoi: That just seems like such a ridiculous attitude to me. I say if it tastes good, eat it.

Lead acetate tastes very good.

You might want to rethink that argument.
posted by Malor at 3:52 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I was in high school I worked for a while at a place in a commercial/industrial park where there was also an artificial scent/flavor company

There is a flavoring company up the street aways from where we live now. For years I could never figure out why I always smelled cream cheese frosting when driving through the area.

Thankfully, I've never noticed any bad smells from there. I smell something like strawberry Poptarts occasionally and it always makes me hungry.
posted by Serene Empress Dork at 3:55 PM on April 22, 2012


Why does it matter if you get vanillin from true vanilla beans or from fermented corn?

It matters because those two things are not the same and aren't going to taste the same. You don't get JUST vanillin from vanilla beans, you get vanillin plus a bunch of other stuff. The stuff from fermented corn is just vanillin.

I mean, go ahead and like what you like, but the snickerdoodle challenge made it pretty clear that people were able to differentiate between artificial and natural flavors. If people couldn't tell the difference, you might have a point that this stuff shouldn't matter. But it matters because the flavors are different.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:08 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Count me among the many Americans who are well aware of the cassia/cinnamon confusion, but still happily use cassia in dishes that call for cinnamon. Very sparingly, though, because it is strong and easily overused spice.

On the other hand, artificial vanilla and maple are disgusting.

I don't think the mislabeling of cassia as cinnamon makes it “fake.” Lots of perfectly natural foods are sold under commonly accepted names that lump different species together.
posted by mubba at 4:12 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh hey, that post was about my lecture! Except put together way way way better.

It matters because those two things are not the same and aren't going to taste the same. You don't get JUST vanillin from vanilla beans, you get vanillin plus a bunch of other stuff. The stuff from fermented corn is just vanillin.

A fun thing about vanillin is that when creating it from non-bean sources you CAN get other compounds! Vanillin sourced from wood pulp actually has a "fuller" and more complicated flavor than other more pure imitations because ethylvanillin somehow makes it into the mix and you end up liking it more!

PS If you're in Brooklyn this Tuesday we're talking about fake meat! No fake vs real battle this time, though.
posted by soma lkzx at 4:29 PM on April 22, 2012 [8 favorites]


I suspect most americans prefer the imitation maple.

Gack. I can't really afford maple syrup but I'd much rather just forego altogether than replace it with that stuff. A lot of processed "replacements", like cheesefood as opposed to real cheese, I can recognize as having their own merit, but Log Cabin? Eeck. Maybe it's because I grew up in New England.
posted by threeants at 4:38 PM on April 22, 2012


They left out castoreum, a secretion from beavers used as 'natural flavoring'.

What the sweet fuck that is utterly amazing. Beaver anal gland squeezings are used as vanilla flavour! It doesn't gross me out in the slightest, it's just hilarious. I mean what the shit, beaver flavour. This may be my never-encountered-a-beaver Britishness showing. Beavers!
posted by emmtee at 4:39 PM on April 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


Fake maple syrup is just ghastly. It's the wrong flavor, the wrong sweetness, and the wrong viscosity.

And this is coming from someone who prefers Grade B maple syrup over grade A light amber.
posted by plinth at 4:43 PM on April 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


And this is coming from someone who prefers Grade B maple syrup over grade A light amber.

Most people do, if not shown the label: Grade A is mostly just more watery. There's movement afoot to get the grading changed, as it originally stems from a time when maple producers were trying to compete for the sugar market, against white sugars from the Caribbean, etc. White sugars were considered ideal and maple had a stigma associated with it. Grade A was suitable for making a light colored sugar and that's the only reason it's called that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 4:51 PM on April 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Grade B maple syrup is heaven on Earth! I use it every day on my oatmeal or yogurt or kefir or on fruit salad or, or, or...
posted by PigAlien at 5:00 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


And this is coming from someone who prefers Grade B maple syrup over grade A light amber.

That's apparently the good stuff. When I was about 15, I spent a week at the Canadian sugar shack/summer cottage of my best friend's aunt and uncle. Uncle Maurice was showing us the sugaring operation (though, being July, it was long dormant) and said, in his strongly Quebecois-flavored English, that his family used only the unsalable, leftover syrup and that was fortunate because that was actually the best.

I didn't really understand because, while my family used real maple syrup (we lived in Maine, after all), I had never purchased it myself and didn't know that there were grades. Now that I'm an adult who buys it, I get what Uncle Maurice was saying. Grade B is definitely better, but I don't think that even grade B syrup is quite as luxurious as the thick, dark-brown liquid that we poured over our morning fried dough on my visit.

The secret's out, anyway. In the last few years, several friends and magazine articles have told me that maple syrup is graded on color and the B product is both cheaper and superior tasting.
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:06 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Grade B has a much stronger presence. It's definitely better for most cooking and especially for maple walnut ice cream. Some people prefer the Grade A light because it is *very* delicate - much more subtle. It;s also gorgeous to put into overpriced glass decanters, apparently, while the B is always hidden in a cheap plastic jug or tin. More for me.
posted by plinth at 5:40 PM on April 22, 2012


I could care less about natural or unnatural.

What I care about is whether it tastes good, whether it's nutritious and whether it's going to kill me.

'Natural' is an utterly valueless term. Human beings are part of nature. Every thing we make is natural. A car tire is as natural as a conch shell. If you're concerned about eating ethically and healthy, you need to look past the provenance of the foods you eat and look at the externalities of the whole production process and at the end product.

Because the truth is that of we limited ourselves to all 'natural' foods and food production, a billion people or more would starve to death. We've spent ten thousand years improving on nature. It would be suicidal to move backwards.
posted by empath at 6:19 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because the truth is that of we limited ourselves to all 'natural' foods and food production, a billion people or more would starve to death.

Wait, what? Are you talking about getting rid of certain kinds of irrigation and mechanized harvesting or something?

Not that I have any particular preference for notions of naturalness, but I'm not sure if this would be true under most peoples' definition of natural. You don't think it would be possible for everyone in the world to live off of "naturally raised" non-GMO grain carbs with some seaweed and vegetable odds and ends for nutrition? Sure, synthetic fertilizers and synthetic pesticides increase crop yields but I would think that measures like getting rid of the meat industry (or replacing it with a little soylent green, heh heh) would more than make up for that.

Or, since you say "thousands of years", are you talking about not even using any plants that have been bred by humans pre-industrially?
posted by XMLicious at 6:38 PM on April 22, 2012


People who took the "cinnamon challenge" might be disappointed to hear this.
posted by feloniousmonk at 7:17 PM on April 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


On further thought, I'm entirely on board. Extracting natural flavors from real food to render industrial foodlike crap relatively palatable is a waste of real food. Go ahead and synthesize the flavors for that garbage and leave the natural flavor in the food it arrived in.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:06 PM on April 22, 2012


emmtee writes "Beaver anal gland squeezings are used as vanilla flavour! It doesn't gross me out in the slightest, it's just hilarious. I mean what the shit, beaver flavour. This may be my never-encountered-a-beaver Britishness showing. Beavers!"

I bet there are numerous products that would actually see a sales bump if you advertised them as genuine beaver flavour.
posted by Mitheral at 9:17 PM on April 22, 2012


Like Cajun Squirrel potato chips.
posted by XMLicious at 9:37 PM on April 22, 2012


So wait, am I getting any health benefits from putting cassia cinnamon in my oatmeal every morning? I can't seem to figure out what cinnamon the health researchers talk about when they do studies, if they specify at all.
posted by Defenestrator at 11:29 PM on April 22, 2012


So wait, am I getting any health benefits from putting cassia cinnamon in my oatmeal every morning? I can't seem to figure out what cinnamon the health researchers talk about when they do studies, if they specify at all.

I believe that's Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia has plenty of coumarin in it, which is the opposite of a health benefit (although only Germany cares).
posted by soma lkzx at 3:53 AM on April 23, 2012


Cassia has plenty of coumarin in it, which is the opposite of a health benefit (although only Germany cares).

I'm not surprised that Germany cares. Not only because it is a health-obsessed nation, but also because each Christmas Germans ingest shiploads of cinnamon. Not only in all sorts of cookies and pastry, but also in their mulled wine and various teas.
posted by Skeptic at 4:17 AM on April 23, 2012


@Skeptic: And it is awesome :)
posted by SAnderka at 4:32 AM on April 23, 2012


soma lkzx: "I believe that's Ceylon cinnamon. Cassia has plenty of coumarin in it, which is the opposite of a health benefit (although only Germany cares)."

It it though? If Cassia is the variety of cinnamon that is most prevalent and easily available I wouldn't be surprised if some studies ended up unwittingly using that instead.
posted by Defenestrator at 10:22 AM on April 23, 2012


Well, after quite a bit of research, this comes closest to answering my question.
posted by Defenestrator at 10:47 AM on April 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Serene Empress Dork: "Thankfully, I've never noticed any bad smells from there. I smell something like strawberry Poptarts occasionally and it always makes me hungry."

I live down the street from a chocolate factory.

Some days there is nothing finer than the pervasive scent of cocoa. All those sense-memories of childhood birthdays and Christmases come whooshing back at you the moment you leave your house. Feeling a bit blue? Just step outside for the sensation of being enveloped in a warm chocolatey hug.

Other days you're running late and you race hopelessly towards the bus-stop knowing that if you could just get one good lungful of fresh air it would give you an extra burst of speed and you might actually catch the bus in time, but there is no fresh air here. There is just a phantom Willy Wonka farting perpetually in your face.
posted by the latin mouse at 12:27 AM on April 24, 2012 [2 favorites]


Going back to my earlier statement about Log Cabin and real maple syrup, I understand that Log Cabin is synthetic crap that is widely viewed to be inferior. It justs tastes better to me. I like the idea of maple syrup as a (truly) natural product, but I'm not committed to the idea to the point of paying $15 for a tiny can of syrup that I don't like very much vs. $4 for a big jug of syrup that I like a lot.

I don't like Mrs. Butterworth's because it has an awful fake butter taste that I can't stand. However, I wouldn't hold anything against anyone who grew up with it and preferred it. After all, we're talking about pancake syrup, which probably isn't very healthy in large amounts in any of its incarnations.

My mom sometimes also made her own syrup which is number one on my list. I know it had varying amounts of corn syrup, molasses, brown sugar and real vanilla, depending on what she had on hand. She would mix and heat it while cooking the pancakes or waffles and we'd pour it on while it was piping hot.

I think that recipe was a hold-over from either the Great Depression or WWII rationing. I should ask her for it because it was wonderful.
posted by double block and bleed at 9:35 AM on April 26, 2012


Yes you should so you could post it here.
posted by Mitheral at 12:32 PM on April 26, 2012


Our Palates are "clumsy"? See this is the kind of stuff that annoys me about people who obsess about the providence of various foods.

I get what you're saying, but if you honestly can't (a) tell the difference between two ingredients that actually are different, and (b) identify the source of each unique ingredient, you've got a clumsy, uneducated, inexperienced palate. I agree that good taste should be a guide to what you choose to eat, to some extent, though not everything that tastes really good at first bite is really something you should eat, or at least eat regularly. What I"m talking about is not some arcane idea, but the basic thought that if you taste a wide range of flavors, and you taste with attention and you know the source of what you're tasting, you'll become a much better taster, and much better able to identify the qualities that contribute to small and large differences in the things you're tasting. That might or might not change your preferences - I was brought up on fake syrup too, but once I tasted maple there was no going back, while for others the homey, nostalgic flavor of corn syrup with additives is where it's at - but the thing is, if you're unable to even notice the differences, and don't know enough about the raw taste of a lot of kinds of food and a lot of preparations, you have a clumsy palate.

One of the most fun things about eating with chefs and other food people is how well educated their palates are. One of my favorite things to do is taste a salad dressing or a baked item or a pasta sauce and try to break down the ingredients, and then re-create it at home. You need to tune your taste buds to this stuff. Once you do that, it becomes a lot easier to understand what you're tasting - and your preferences can become more definite, too. What I'm critiquing is not that sometimes, whatever we're calling "fake" might be deemed preferable in a given preparation, but that there are a lot of people who are unable to recognize the differences and theorize as to why the flavors turn out the way they do. They don't have enough reference points of foods in elemental or unprocessed states and/or prepared and mellowed or cooked states to compare what they're tasting with any standard of reference.
posted by Miko at 6:57 PM on April 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


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