Espoo daycare centre bans cinnamon as "moderately toxic to liver"
Espoo recommends that traditional spice should not be enjoyed every day
By Matti Huuskonen
Kaisa Jyrkinen, a little girl at the Palttina daycare centre in Espoo’s Kauklahti district, mixes jam evenly among her rice porridge and then eats two platefuls.
Almost everything goes into her tummy; just a small red spot remains on her cheek.
In Palttina, the traditional cinnamon-sugar mixture was replaced by jam more than a week ago, when the City of Espoo issued a recommendation that cinnamon should not be used in daycare centres on a daily basis.
The recommendation is based on the new guidelines issued by the Finnish Food Safety Authority (Evira) on coumarin, a flavouring substance found in cinnamon.
Coumarin is moderately toxic to the liver, and exposure to coumarin due to daily ingestion of high amounts of cinnamon may turn the most susceptible persons yellow.
In Palttina’s kitchen the recommendation is to be observed very strictly - at least at the beginning.
”Previously we used to serve cinnamon powder with porridge and milk, but we no longer do so. Luckily, there are jams and other substitutes available”, says Ulla Pitkonen , who is in charge of food services.
However, the new order has not managed to convince everybody.
”It sounds like excessive self-defence”, says kindergarten teacher Riitta Keränen to childminder Laura Nisonen.
One of the kindergarten groups still has a small memento of the past, namely a small cinnamon-sugar shaker, while a book of nursery rhymes containing a worrying ”politically incorrect text” is sitting on one shelf.
One of the rhymes in the book says that little girls are made of sugar, flowers, ginger, and cinnamon - a description not dissimilar to the "sugar and spice and all things nice" of the English tradition.
Cinnamon is a popular spice in Finland, being found often in seasonal Christmas items and in pulla (sweet buns), particularly the korvapuusti cinnamon roll that is a staple of coffee tables.
It isn't just kids who are in the firing line...
According to special researcher Kirsi-Helena Liukkonen from Evira, the variety of cinnamon commonly sold in Europe is so-called cassia cinnamon (Cinnamomum cassia) - not the more expensive and rarer true cinnamon or ceylon cinnamon (Cinnamomum zeylanicum).
To quote the Wikipedia entry, "Cassia cinnamon's flavour is less delicate than that of true cinnamon; for this reason, the less expensive cassia is sometimes called "bastard cinnamon".
In any event, measurements have indicated that the coumarin concentrations of cassia cinnamon have been higher than those measured from true cinnamon. The fact is that the aromatic compound coumarin may upset the livers of the most susceptible people.
While no observations of cinnamon cirrhosis exist, exposure to coumarin may turn the skin yellow. However, most often the skin can restore its former colour when the ingestion of coumarin has come to an end.
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has assessed the safety of coumarin.
Considering the toxity of coumarin, the amount of its safe daily consumption has been defined by the EFSA.
The limit is strict: a child weighing 15 kilos may easily be exposed to an excessive amount of coumarin if he or she eats one cinnamon bun or a plateful of porridge with some cinnamon powder.
The recommendation by Evira has been quoted by the media, from where parents have learnt about it.
They in turn have informed Espoo Catering, a company in charge of Espoo’s daycare centres’ catering services.
Eventually the city has recommended that the use of cinnamon should be banned at daycare centres.
From now on, Kaisa Jyrkinen can have porridge with cinnamon only at home.
She does not care that much, as jam tastes pretty good, too.
Whether Finnish adults threatened with the withdrawal of their regular korvapuusti hit of coumarin will feel as comfortable remains to be seen.
Helsingin Sanomat / First published in print 2.10.2009
Cinnamon roll - korvapuusti (Wikipedia)
Finnish Food Safety Authority
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)
Food from Finland - cinnamon buns
MATTI HUUSKONEN / Helsingin Sanomat