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Won't you be my cinnamon friend?

By DW Hamliton

One aspect I have treasured about my association with my European friends is that they really do see life here in the United State from a completely different set of eyes (or tastebuds).  So it was not until more than one European quite independently asked, “What is it with America’s seeming fascination with cinnamon?” that I had to pause and question it myself.  At first, I figured that it was merely a random observation brought on by the happenstance of passing a Cinnabon in an American mall.  My thoughts were, “How can anybody not like cinnamon?  It is a taste-bud tantalizing spicy sweet treat.”

But when at least two more Europeans asked me the same question elsewhere, I had to start wondering.  I brought the question up at one of our staff meeting and the dozen or so Europeans attending immediately concurred – the popularity of cinnamon on our shores really was quite inexplicable.  Seems it’s not like that in Europe at all.  As usual, I’m not so much here to defend this phenomena (after all, it is rather like having to defend cute fluffy kittens, for all the harm cinnamon is doing), but rather seek to explain it.  And when you look at it, it is kind of puzzling.

Cinnabon itself is quite the American success story.  Starting in metropolitan Seattle’s SeaTac Mall on December 4, 1985, it has since spread to over 600 locations worldwide.  Cinnabon is such a fixture on the American landscape that it made its way into popular culture as the workplace for “Goth Girl” in a recurring Saturday Night Live skit, “Goth Talk.”  Success breeds parody, and ultimately, imitation.  Even my European friends who aren’t so crazy about cinnamon, like Cinnabon, perhaps it’s all the cream cheese.

One imagines a boardroom somewhere in corporate America, where a group of execs with marketing degrees are brainstorming how to pump up sales of their product.  It doesn’t really matter what the product is.  One nibbles on the Cinnabon somebody had inevitably brought in as brain food, and “eureka!”  “Let’s offer it in cinnamon flavor!”  And so it was that we were offered Cinna Stix® Dessert Treats at Domino’s Pizza, told to go to IHOP for Cinn-A-Stacks, were offered a new line of whitening toothpastes from Crest named Cinnamon Rush, had the opportunity to buy Apple & Cinnamon Liquid Cereal, Cap’n Crunch cinnamon flavored cereal, cinnamon flavor instant oatmeal, cinnamon flavored teas, cinnamon raisin protein bars and procured a concoction called “Pepsi Spice” with cinnamon and ginger top notes, which didn’t make it much further than its debut as “Pepsi Holiday Spice” in the year 2003.

The list of cinnamon flavored products available here in the United States is likely too long to fit here.  Needless to say, cinnamon does double-duty as a scent, available in air fresheners and aromatic candles, too.  Hey, why not a cinnamon scent body wash?  No doubt it’s in development. 

But cinnamon alone is not the whole story.  The American consumer is being treated to an entire flavor explosion.  Have you counted the different types of snack chips available lately?  Jalepéno, habérnaro, salsa, regular ranch, cool ranch, mesquite grill, guacamole, BBQ, honey BBQ, nacho, chili cheese, Sonic Sour Cream (huh?), hot jalapeno, sour cream & onion, alder smoked barbecue, parmesan & garlic, sea salt & vinegar, zesty dill pickle, and the promise of limited edition flavors to come.

So much variety is at once delightful (will they come up with a flavor combination manufactured just for me?) and annoying.  Who has time to decide?  Picking a toothpaste can take twenty minutes.  Tartar control or whitening or fight gum disease?  Zesty Citrus or Wintergreen?  Each brightly designed packages screams “Pick-me! Pick me!”  It makes one long for the simpler old days, when the choice was either just Crest or Colgate.  All of which is something to think about while chewing a piece of sugar-free cinnamon flavored gum.


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