trans-Cinnamaldehyde, the principal component of cinnamon flavor, is a potent antimicrobial compound present in essential oils such as cinnamon. In the course of studies designed to discover its maximum microbial lethality under food-processing conditions, a gas chromatographic-mass spectrophotometric procedure was developed for the extraction and analysis of essential oil components such as cinnamaldehyde from commercial cinnamon-containing foods (several brands of cinnamon breads, cereals, cookies, puddings, applesauces, and fruit juices). The cinnamaldehyde content ranged from trace amounts in orange juice to 12.2 mg/100 g (122 ppm) in apple cinnamon cereals and 31.1 mg/100 g (311 ppm) for cinnamon swirl bread (highest value). To ascertain the heat stability of cinnamaldehyde, pure cinnamaldehyde, pure eugenol, cinnamon oil, and mixtures consisting of cinnamaldehyde plus eugenol or cinnamon oil were heated at graded temperatures up to 210 degrees C and 60 min, and then possible compositional changes were examined. Eugenol was stable to heat, as were the components of cinnamon oil: carvone, eugenol, and linalool. In contrast, starting at approximately 60 degrees C, pure cinnamaldehyde undergoes a temperature-dependent transformation to benzaldehyde under the influence of heat. Eugenol, both pure and in cinnamon oil, when added to pure cinnamaldehyde protected the aldehyde against heat destruction. The protection may due to an antioxidative action of eugenol. The possible mechanism of this effect and the significance of these findings for food chemistry and microbiology are discussed.