Cinnamon sticks and meal close up on wooden table
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For many chefs, cinnamon in a stick is the preferred form of the spice, as it lasts longer and has more flavor than the little cans of powder you see in the spice aisle. Cinnamon sticks can be used for many things, but sometimes, a recipe requires cinnamon powder instead. How can a stick of cinnamon be converted into a form that you can spoon or sprinkle?

Ceylon Cinnamon vs. Cassia Cinnamon

True cinnamon sticks, known as Ceylon cinnamon, are made from the rolled-up interior bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree of Sri Lanka. What's sold as cinnamon in many supermarkets is not "real" cinnamon at all, but the similar spice cassia, also known as Chinese cinnamon. Cassia is less nuanced than the subtly sweet Ceylon cinnamon and cheaper to produce. It's fine in a pinch (or if you're looking for a bold, brash flavor), but in general, chefs prefer Ceylon cinnamon.

The antioxidants in cinnamon, especially Ceylon cinnamon, act against inflammation and may help your body fight illness. However, cassia cinnamon also contains the compound coumarin, which can cause problems when ingested in large doses. Whichever type of spice you choose, grind only as much as you need for immediate use. Store any remaining sticks in a sealed container; kept this way, cinnamon sticks maintain their strength for up to three years.

The only differences between ground cinnamon and cinnamon powder taken from the same type of tree are in their textures. For example, when you grind the sticks in a mortar and pestle, you'll work very hard to wind up with a pretty coarse, stringy substance. Cassia sticks are tougher and more brittle than the softer, multi-layered Ceylon sticks, but neither one is an easy proposition, and both could break into shards during the grating process.

Methods of Grating Cinnamon

Besides using a mortar and pestle, you can grind sticks manually by using the fine-grade side of a box grater or by grating with a microplane if you have one on hand. If not, it's a handy tool shaped like a wand, with sharper grating blades than a box grater. The Cinnamon Hill company offers a grater specifically geared just for cinnamon, similar to a microplane but broader and with a base for stability. This company will also send along fresh cinnamon sticks with your purchase.

If you're planning to grind your own spices in the future, consider investing in an electric spice grinder. You can use a coffee grinder, but make sure that the model is intended for use with spices as well as coffee beans. In any case, you'll need to keep coffee flavor and spice flavors separated, each with their own grinders.

There are electric grinders available that are specifically designed to handle spices, herbs, nuts and seeds, including models with detachable blades for moist and dry ingredients. You can purchase a decent electric spice grinder for as little as $30, a very good investment.

What About Those Leftover Cinnamon Sticks?

Before you put them into storage, why not hold on to a few cinnamon sticks and brew up a nice cuppa tea? It's delicious, nutritious and incredibly easy to prepare. All you really have to do is toss a cinnamon stick into boiling water, turn down the heat to a simmer, and let it steep 5 to 10 minutes. Add honey if you like. If you want to get fancy, you could put a little piece of ginger or some milk in it too.

The benefits of cinnamon tea are manifold, as you're getting all those antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents in a form that's more enjoyable than the cinnamon pills available at the pharmacy.