By: Judy Davie - The Food Coach
These days I use the Google maps app. on my phone to guide me pretty much everywhere and although most of the time it never lets me down, there has been the odd occasion where I've followed its lead despite knowing in my heart that we were heading in the wrong direction.
As was the case with a tea I've instinctively felt was not that great.
A couple of Christmases ago Jonathan and Sarah Wiggins gave me a delicious box of cinnamon tea and although I don't have a particularly sweet tooth this tea was "naturally" sweet and scrumptious. So much so that recently, when I saw a box of Hot Cinnamon Sunset Tea at Thomas Dux supermarket the other day I bought it. The brand is Harney & Sons and the tea is manufactured in New York. I was disappointed to read - after I'd bought the tea - that as well as black tea, cinnamon, sweet cloves, and orange peel, it also contained natural and artificial flavours. I called the company and was told that the sweet flavour comes from the artificial flavouring, liquid cinnamic which, I was told, was similar to vanilla essence - extracted using the same process used to make vanilla essence, but with cinnamon or cassia bark instead. That didn't sound too bad, however I still had the nagging feeling that I was being led off in the wrong direction. The tea is really sweet and I don't know any substance which would produce such an intensely sweet flavour in such small amounts other than intense sweeteners like aspartame.
I contacted applied scientist Vic Cherikoff , the Australian authority on native wild foods, who has a background in clinical pharmacology and nutritional science to ask what he knew about liquid cinnamic. According to Vic liquid cinnamic is also known as cinnamic acid which is a precursor to the sweetener aspartame via enzyme-catalysed amination to phenylalanine. It's an artificial sweetener, listed on the box as an artificial flavour.
Even if artificial sweeteners were perfectly safe (and I don't believe they are) a new study released last week suggests that artificial sweeteners create a type of starvation state in the brain and cause some organisms to seek energy by eating more food.
Studies on fruit flies found that flies which were fed on artificial sweeteners consumed 30% more calories than those fed on sugar. What's more, on a prolonged diet containing artificial sweeteners the flies developed a greater sensitivity to the sweet taste which suggests they grew to like it more and more.
I was liking my tea more and more and it really was too good to be true.
Scientists believe when sweetness versus energy is out of balance for a period of time, the brain recalibrates and increases the total amount of kJ consumed. In other words, when the brain detects sweetness in the absence of actual kJ energy, it compensates by increasing the palatability of sugar, driving increased food consumption.
As my friend Vic said, "Caveat emptor" - Let the buyer beware.
I should have known better, I should have trusted my instinct, and I should have read the label. My penance, the contents of a flash $16 box of tea going straight into the bin.
And the take home message to all of this is: It's better to blend your own black tea with cinnamon and spices and sweeten it yourself with a little sugar or honey.