Last week, lost in a haze of book tour, I found myself at brunch with several friends who were talking about a YouTube meme I'd entirely missed—people attempting to eat whole spoonfuls of cinnamon and failing miserably. (Warning, the video ends in tears and heaving.)
While others wonder "why?" or, perhaps, "why not?", we here at BoingBoing prefer to ask, "No, seriously, how does that work?" Luckily, Jason Bittel at BittelMeThis had the answer. Turns out, humans are generally doomed to fail the Cinnamon Challenge for a very specific scientific reason—we need things to be lubricated in order to swallow them.
The spice that magically transforms dough and sugar into a sticky bun is actually ground up tree bark, which means we’re talking about a lot of water-resistant cellulose. And according to retired physical chemist Vince Calder, the rest is “a mixture of volatile organic compounds, a major component being cinnamanaldehyde, which is not very water soluble.”
If you want to see this in action without risking asphyxiation, put a tablespoon of cinnamon in a bowl and jostle it until the powder is level. Using a straw, allow a drop of water to fall on the surface. Instead of saturating the cinnamon – like it would with sugar – the water just beads up and rolls around like the liquid seed of a rusty T1000.
In a nutshell, all of this means that the Cinnamon Challenge can, in fact, be fairly dangerous.
Maggie Koerth-Baker is the science editor at BoingBoing.net. She writes a monthly column for The New York Times Magazine and is the author of Before the Lights Go Out, a book about electricity, infrastructure, and the future of energy. You can find Maggie on Twitter and Facebook.