The right brain doesn’t understand rules. It makes no value judgments or waits for a polite moment to ask a question. It simply looks for patterns. Certainly that must be the reason why some ask “what is the opposite of cinnamon?”
A simple question with no defensible answer. Sure. Sugar is the automatic response. And why not. Those two flavors are paired up in nearly every recipe. Need an apple to pie? A cookie to dust? Chocolate to enhance?
The Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of seasoning comes waltzing in.
But this is a deeper question than what complements cinnamon. We are talking about opposites. Finding the positive charge to offset the negative charge. We are in search of the antimatter to this matter.
To determine what is opposite, we must agree on a system of measurement(s). For the purpose of clarity, this blog is about food as a means of communication, so our arguments will be less in the science of physics or chemistry and more in the realm of cognitive neuroscience. What we *think* or *feel* when our sensing selves create flavor images in the mind.
But first, let’s have a look at some common responses to the question.
“Sweet cream, because its cool, sweet and mild” – mrtapeo
“Naval oranges, because they grow on the polar opposite side of the planet” – private
“Anything that is the opposite of sex” – Roy
“Frogs” – Mandy the Merciless, in The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy
<click on the link to learn why>
Each answer suggests a center point. A position from which the object in question can find the opposable position.
Cary Cook makes a similar argument in his blog, Sanity Quest. He agrees that we have a tendency to view both absence (the lack of something, i.e. cold vs. the presence something, i.e. heat) as well as negativity (up vs. down) as opposites. However the more authentic definition comes with a mid point. The opposite of 3 is 7 when the mid point is 5.
So what is the midpoint for this question? Flavor wheels, such as the one found in The Flavor Thesaurus, by Nicki Segnit, fail us in this question. Draw a line from cinnamon through the midpoint and you will land on chicken on the other side of the wheel. Yes, in this diagram, spicy and meaty are dueling ideas. Which might suggest flavor wheels aren’t as robust as color wheels.
Pair sky blue with orange and watch the electricity fly. Those colors pulse when next to each other. They are chromatically opposite in our eyes.
And yet cinnamon with sweet cream is lovely and not electric. Cinnamon with oranges only serves to heighten each other’s personality. Like Sonny and Cher singing “I Got You Babe.”
It’s not a back-and-forth dialogue, like Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D-Minor. Answer and response in a complex, contrapuntal composition.
Now that’s a foil. Macduff to Macbeth. Watson to Sherlock.
Who is the Sancho Panza to windmill-tilting Cinnamon?
It’s a difficult question because cinnamon is the Type-O blood type of spices. It’s the universal donor. It neatly fits with most dishes. It swings with the sweet and the savory. It can be dark and mysterious one moment then suave and charming in another. A dangerous liaison.
American’s have no trouble cinnamoning nearly every dish.
Doubt this fact? Ask IBM’s Chef Watson. This big-data-turned-recipe-generating-machine allows culinary explorers to dial in any flavor component and a multitude of dishes emerge. Insert cinnamon with the most unlikely combination and sure enough something interesting emerges.
So let’s take a deeper look at the qualities cinnamon. Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg wrote in The Flavor Bible, that flavors can be measured in one of 5 capacities:
- Season refers to the time when a flavor has it’s most intense expression. Strawberries in January are pale ghosts of themselves from July.
- Taste refers to the amalgam of aromatic and oral sensations when ingesting a flavor. The tongue plays two roles here: detecting the 5 basic tastes (sweet, salty, bitter, sour and umami) and texture. Of course this is a complex topic, but for the moment, let’s leave it here.
- Function is about the effect we get from the flavor. Salt might just make us thirsty, satisfy a deficiency of minerals or enhance surrounding flavors.
- Weight accounts for an impression of mass. Some flavors might just weigh us down despite our effort to bounce towards the beach.
- Volume reflects intensity. Loud items speak distinctly even in small measures. And quiet items require listening carefully.
So to Karen and Andrew, cinnamon carries the following profile:
Taste: sweet, bitter, pungent
–The Flavor Bible, by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, pg. 129
It would be reasonable therefore to find a flavor(s) which carry contrary positions: Spring seasoned; mild, somewhat acidic; cooling, and quiet.
“…the term “flavor” tends to incorporate taste, as well as the “trigeminal” qualities of ingredients-that is, the sensation of heat from chili, pepper and mustard, the cooling properties of menthol and drawstring pucker of tannins in red wine and tea.”
— The Flavor Thesaurus, by Nici Segnit, p14
It’s also worth noting that cinnamon carries a fair bit of astringency. That same drying pucker-producing quality that you find in cabernet or cranberries. So any opposite would be mouth watering. Whether that’s an inherent juiciness of water-dense fruit or inspired by sour sensations.
“Occasionally, certain aromatic compounds dominate the others, in quantity or in power, and so define the ingredients’s major tone; this is the case, for example, with cinnamic aldehyde (also called cinnamaldehyde) for cinnamon. Cinnamon also contains ethyl cinnamte, an ester who’s fruity balsamic fragrance helps give cinnamon its signature aroma.” “… Ethyl cinnamte also develops in red wines that undergo carbonic maceration such as Beaujolais Nouveau.”
—Taste Buds and Molecules, by Francois Chartier, pg.169
The Flavor Bible offers some clues. When matching *cooling* with *Spring,* items like berries, lettuces, figs, cucumbers, zucchini, watercress and yogurt come to mind. Each are mild, sweet, water-dense items. So they seem to be in the zone. But how to get from the right neighborhood to the precise address?
Let’s turn our attention to the word itself. In his book, The Language of Food, Professor Dan Jurafsky retells the theory and experimentation of Oxford psychologist Charles Spence. Spence discovered a strong correlation between the taste of foods and characteristic sounds.
“Sounds like m, l, and r, called continuants because they are continuous and smooth acoustically (the sound is pretty consistent across its whole length), are more closely associated with smoother figures. By contrast, strident sounds that abruptly start and stop, like t and k, are associated with spiky figures. The constant t has the most distinct jagged burst of energy of any consonant in English”
—The Language of Food, by Dan Jurafsky, pg 167
This implies that cinnamon is loaded with undulating sounds. Like a surfer on a sand dune with friction of the grit becoming white noise.
To oppose such an image we need the karate chop. Cucumbers, maybe. Mint, maybe. Yogurt? Each carry the acoustically abrupt start and stop and still hold onto cool and Spring. Even the synthesis of the three might aggregate the essence of what cinnamon is not.
So there you have it. In this authors opinion, cinnamon’s Sancho Panza tastes like slightly sour, menthol-infused spring fruit from the gourd family.
And the opposite to sex? Well, that’s easy. It’s a crying baby.