Sunday, December 03, 2006

Ask the Gourmet: Cinnamon Substitutes

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.


KBK Bakery said...

I'm looking to make a pumpkin pie without cinnamon (due to allergies) what would you recommend in that recipe? It has cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg in the recipe.

Bea said...

OMG This is awesome information.

I am allergic to cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, mace and allspice and have occasionally reacted to bay leaf and bay oil. As you can imagine, those allergies make the autumn season and the winter holidays a sheer living hell for me.

KBK Bakery, I made a pumpkin pie last year that calle dfor 1-2 Tablespoons of maple syrup. I used 2T and woudl cut it to 1-1.5T instead as the maple taste was strong.

Anonymous said...

try making apple pie with vanilla.brown sugar. and a handfull of blueberries (frozen ok)-you will never miss the cinnamon

Anonymous said...

When my grandma makes pumpkin pie for me because I am allergic to cinnamon she uses a combo of cloves, nutmeg, and all spice..sometimes eliminates one to taste..just depends.

Bea said...

Thank you, but unfortunately, I'm allergic to all of those spices. I'm allergic to six spices - cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, mace, and allspice. It's a nuisance.

Anonymous said...

Im alergic to cinnamon even the scented candles and my kids have to know about it at a young age as if they have a cinnamon doughnut they have to was there hands before they touch me as I get a rash and hives even from the smallest amount on my skin , I have a fear of eating and pre made curry as they never list the spice on the lable . My husband is however a chef and brought home a dish with cassia in it instead of cinnamon and im glad to say I had no reaction which is great. I hate the looks I get from wait staff when I ask if the meal or desert has cinnamon, im not a lepper just have an alergy :/

purple_kangaroo said...

Wow, somehow I didn't get notifications about these comments. Maple syrup, molasses or brown sugar might give pumpkin pie a nice flavor? said...


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danette lomax said...

Hello, was wondering if you could help me. Making a dish that was on The View today 1/28/15 that Mario made. Kinda like a paella but with noodles, he used smoked paprika, ginger and cinnamon. Love the first two, but not a fan of the cinnamon. What would you recommendation be for a suitable substitute? Thanks so much!

scubadolphin211 said...

I thought I was the only one allergic to cinnamon. Just when pumpkin spice season is over, I now have to deal with holiday candle scent... had no idea it was cinnamon, too until I came in contact with it this season. (I'm recently diagnosed, my body just started to hate all things festive)

Bea said...

I react to candles too, and potpourri, and anything cinnamon flavored or scented. It make fall and winter a challenge. Best of luck to you!

Anonymous said...

When they test you for general allergies, what spices are included? I had the test on my back and the only reaction was ginger. I notice that my face breaks out when I eat cinnamon and when I eat seasoned salt. I should have asked the doctor. If anyone knows, please answer. Thanks in advance. :)

Anonymous said...

Hi, I was wondering if you ever experimented with any recipes? My husband is allergic to allspice and cinnamon. I love making pumpkin desserts and would like to know what I can replace the cinnamon with? Pumpkin pie, muffins, bread...etc. Or can I just leave it out? Would it still taste good?


This is great advice. I wish I could share this to Facebook. My almost 21yr old daughter is allergic to cinnamon... this time of year seems to be the hardest for her.