Some people connect the start of fall with subtly changing leaves on trees, with the splendid colors of red, orange and yellow painting the landscape. Others might say fall’s hallmark is all things pumpkin spice and pumpkin patches or football.
But the unsung hero of fall?
The humble cinnamon stick.
The warm, spicy aroma and brown flecks of cinnamon are common in every pumpkin spice recipe ever created (probably). It’s the signature scent of fall.
If you’ve ever found yourself with a cute glass jar of perfectly curled cinnamon sticks and wondered how you could use this seemingly mundane ingredient in new and unique ways, then look no further.
How cinnamon sticks are made
Did you know that cinnamon is actually the bark of the Cinnamomum tree?
Cinnamon farmers shave off the outer layer of bark from the tree, then thinly shave the inner bark, the cinnamon part. Once it dries, it curls into its signature “quill” shape. Cinnamon’s essential oils and compounds (cinnamaldehyde) are what give it its unique flavor, aroma and health benefits.
There are actually two varieties of cinnamon: Cassia and Ceylon. However, Cassia cinnamon (also known as Chinese cinnamon) is the world’s most common variety; it also has a stronger cinnamon-y flavor because 95% of its essential oil is cinnamaldehyde.
Fun ways to use cinnamon sticks
Now that you’re an expert on how cinnamon sticks are made, it’s time to learn how to use them in more creative ways than simply grinding them to make powder.
1. Slow cooking and stewing meats
Cinnamon and meat might seem like a no-go, but listen up. By tossing a cinnamon stick into your next crockpot meal of pulled pork, vat of chili or broth simmering on the stove, you’ll be elevating the flavors of the dish with a secret ingredient. The addition won’t leave your meal tasting like a cinnamon stick, but it will enhance the already present aromas and earthy flavors.
2. Spicing up rice
As noted above, don’t doubt the power of cinnamon in savory dishes. If you’re in the mood for an Asian-inspired dish or curry meal, throw a cinnamon stick or two into the rice cooker. Cinnamon also pairs nicely with Middle Eastern and North African dishes.
3. Stirring your drinks
Use a cinnamon stick as a garnish, stirrer and flavor enhancer! Whether your hot beverage of choice is warm apple cider or a steaming cup of hot chocolate, pop a cinnamon stick into your cup for flare, taste and ease of stirring (who needs spoons anyway?).
4. Mulling wine
Speaking of warm fall and winter drinks, have you considered mulled wine? It’s a cold-weather classic! While preparing your favorite festive warm drink, add a cinnamon stick to the mixture.
5. Infusing coffee
The trick to adding a touch of cinnamon spice to make your coffee extra nice is to place a cinnamon stick on top of the coffee grounds before you begin brewing. As the coffee is made, the cinnamon stick will get to work flavoring your morning cup of joe.
6. Making cinnamon essence
You might think cinnamon essence (or extract) is just a cinnamon stick or the ground spice, but think again: It’s actually the liquid form of a cinnamon stick – and you can make your own. This cinnamon essence recipe calls for a few sticks of cinnamon and bit of light rum. Much like peppermint extract or vanilla extract, the essence of cinnamon can be added to many dessert recipes.
7. Sipping cinnamon tea
As the name suggests, cinnamon tea can be as simple as steeping cinnamon sticks in hot water. The best part is that you’ll be making your own herbal tea!
8. Simmering oats
There’s something quite hearty and comforting about a bowl of warm oats for breakfast, especially as the weather starts to cool. While preparing your favorite oatmeal, toss a cinnamon stick into the mixture to infuse your breakfast with fall flavor.
9. Treating athlete’s foot
This last one isn’t an idea for something you can eat, but it is a useful technique! Cinnamon’s antifungal properties come in handy if you suffer from athlete’s foot. Break a few cinnamon sticks into warm water (a comfortable temperature), then soak your affected foot (or feet) for about 20 minutes. You’ll help treat your athlete’s foot and leave the foot bath smelling like cinnamon.