You and your family have just finished the first of four courses on Thanksgiving Day. You can smell the rest of the food, but it's not time yet. So you're stuck in a warm room with the people you love, but may not get to see too often. It could be one of those Thanksgiving recipes for joy--or total disaster.
The football game is already a blowout. Thanks to Uncle Tea Party, you don't really want to talk politics. Thanks to Cousin 12-Steps, you can't all just get drunk (openly). And you definitely don't want to start talking about Little Brother's grades again.
Well a spoonful of cinnamon makes the tensions go down.
The same people who'll tell you a human being cannot drink a gallon of milk in an hour will tell you it's impossible to swallow a tablespoon of ground cinnamon. There are dozens of entertaining attempts on YouTube; most end with a delightful cloud of cinnamon hovering over someone trying desperately not to vomit. (See here, here, here, and here.)
But it doesn't make sense: Cinnamon is delicious -- it tastes like Christmas. Even in bulk, it couldn't be any worse than a bad candy cane or a shot of Hot Damn, right? And a tablespoon doesn't seem like much at all. Surely most of the cinnamon challengers on the internet were exaggerating for the sake of an anonymous audience, I figured.
So, in the name of
good journalism providing you with holiday entertainment, I decided to try it myself. I asked mega-awesome New Times Van Canto expert-slash-nightlife columnist Tara Nieuwesteeg to help me in my scientific test ridiculous example of people playing with food. She has incredible swallowing capability. (And yes, I asked her permission to write that.)
First we watched some YouTube clips of people trying to swallow the cinnamon. We found only a few successful attempts, and in each it appeared the challenger worked slowly to swallow, first bracing for the sting of pulverized tree bark. (Yep, that's what cinnamon is.)
For my try, I sprinkled the brown powder onto the spoon, leaned over the sink, and tried to get all of the cinnamon into my mouth in one big swipe. "Your big mouth will definitely be a strength," Tara had postulated earlier.
The first two seconds it's in your mouth aren't bad.
That's when the evolutionary safeguard against the impulse to digest pulverized bark kicks in. The moment the powder mixed with the saliva in my mouth it began to solidify into a thick, clinging ball of spice. And it hurts. It burns your tongue and your cheeks. And it virtually paralyzes the muscles you'd use to swallow. It feels a little like drowning in soft sand that reminds you of the holidays.
I got maybe a quarter of it down -- just enough to start a burn in my throat that lasted more than an hour -- before I had to get the rest out of my mouth. But wanting a tablespoon of ground cinnamon out of your mouth and actually getting it out are far different things. Spitting will get out the big chunks, but after a short amount of time in your mouth the concoction turns to mud. Mud that clings to your teeth, to the roof of your mouth, and to the back of your tongue. Swishing water helps, but not completely. Ditto for milk. Half an hour later I could still feel it on my breath.
Tara, however, had a different experience.
She'd seen the same videos, so she tried the same slow-swallowing approach. She leaned over the sink and plopped the spoonful of spice in her mouth. She winced through the initial blast of fire -- something like the hottest candy you've ever tasted plus everything in your body telling you to get this new foreign substance out.
Then she began to chew ever so slightly. Her swallowing muscles were similarly paralyzed by the cinnamon, but she could move her jaw just enough to work the powder to the back of her mouth.
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Twice she fought through the impulse to gag and spit it out. Her ears turned red and her eyes began to water. Little by little though, she was able to swallow. As the muddy substance went down her throat, it became easier and easier. Soon she could open her mouth a little. She could even speak a bit...well, she could make sounds to indicate how awful the experience was, which is more than I could do before I spit it out.
In about two minutes, she had most of it down. There were small clumps around her teeth and on the roof of her mouth, but when she could open her mouth and make full, unencumbered sentences, I declared her a winner.
Through her glassy eyes, Tara nodded, thankful she'll never have to attempt such a ridiculous feat ever again. Until Christmas.
Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.