Found your Restricted Gourmet this morning; holidays always rev up my "what to do about the cinnamon thing" motor!
My husband is allergic to "trees, grass & dirt", with the tree thing being a really big one (when skin testing, the allergist had to cut the test dose, what? I think it was one ten-thousandth of the regular test dose, before they got a reaction that didn't scare THEM). Anaphylactic reaction; I don't even keep cinnamon/cassia in the house.
Anyway, I have been hunting for a work-around for cinnamon for years, and thought maybe one of your blog-visitors might have an idea. I sometimes substitute ginger, for the heat, but sometimes there just doesn't seem to be any possibility than completely leaving the cinnamon out. We've never tried cassia, but it's tree bark too.
Thanks for any ideas or info,
Hi, Patsy! Thanks for writing. I'm sorry to hear about your husband's allergies. Is he allergic to any product that comes from any tree (tea, paper, maple syrup, apples, nuts, etc.) or just pollen and cinnamon?
Usually the "tree mix" allergists use for skin testing is a mixture of pollens from trees local to your regional area. Most people who are allergic to tree pollen can handle other tree-derived products, or products from other types of trees.
"Tree" is such a large category and includes a great variety of different botanical families. Did the allergist give any guidance in exactly which trees or types of trees to avoid? The allergist also should have been able to tell what part(s) of dirt your husband was allergic to. For example, dust mites and mold are common allergens that are often found in dirt and dust.
As I'm sure you know, much of the "cinnamon" on the American market is not actually cinnamon, but is from a different tree (closely related, though) called cassia or chinese cinnamon. According to this page, anything labeled "cinnamon oil" made in the United States is actually oil of cassia. Much of the powdered cinnamon on the market is also cassia. This kind of mislabeling is common.
So in some cases it could be theoretically possible that someone could think they are allergic to cinnamon when in reality they are allergic to cassia, or vice versa. Of course, with an anaphylactic reaction you probably don't want to try anything that closely related anyway. Both cinnamon and cassia are fairly common allergens.
Cinnamon can be difficult to avoid, especially since in many products it can be simply labeled "spices" or "natural flavors" on the ingredient list. Cinnamon can hide in unexpected places such as curry powder, garam masala, chocolate, liquor, coffee, fruit and vegetable dishes, and just about anything sweet or spicy. Even cinnamon in candles or in air fresheners can cause allergic reactions for people breathing in the fumes.
Contrary to popular belief, cinnamaldehyde or artificial cinnamon flavoring is often derived from the cinnamon plant, although it can be made from benzaldehyde and acetaldehyde.
Can he have allspice and other aromatic spices? Most of them are from trees as well. Clove, nutmeg & mace (they come from the same plant), allspice, bay leaf (sweet laurel), and star anise are all from evergreen trees, as are cinnamon and cassia. Cumin, black pepper, cardamom and ginger are some spices that would add some heat without being from trees. Anise seed (the annual herb anise, not the star anise from a tree), molasses or honey will give a sweet flavor without being tree-derived.
Some of the suggested spices to substitute for cinnamon include nutmeg, allspice, cardamom or cloves. Some sources recommend a combination of 2 parts coriander and 1 part cardamom as a cinnamon substitute. Since many other aromatic spices are more strongly-flavored than cinnamon, you might want to start with half the amount of cinnamon called for in the recipe and adjust from there to taste.
You might also consider trying an herb with a cinnamon-like flavor, such as the cinnamon basil used in these recipes.
According to a quick internet search, other substitutes for cinnamon have historically included sweet flag or Acorus calamus (illegal as a food additive in the USA), sweet shade (calycanthus floridus), black sassafrass (a.k.a. Oliveri Cortex or Oliver's Bark--closely related to cinnamon), Cinnamon Myrtle (Backhousia myrtifolia--also an evergreen), Coluria geoides, and Perilla.
It seems that the appropriate substitute would really depend on the dish you were making. For example, in pancakes or waffles nutmeg is good, while in another dish like a pie I might substitute allspice and/or ginger. Ginger, butter and sugar makes a nice substitute for cinnamon sugar on toast.
In many recipes you might want to consider changing the flavor completely by using lemon peel, chocolate, almond extract, black pepper, anise, coconut, vanilla or maple syrup instead of cinnamon. In some recipes you can just use brown sugar or molasses for flavor instead of adding spices.
Do you have a particular dish or dishes you want to make, that you'd like me to experiment with developing a recipe for?
Note: I am not an expert of any kind. This is not intended to be medical advice; please check with your doctor or allergist before trying any food you're not sure of.