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Cinnamon is possibly the oldest and most flavorful spice known. For centuries it has been prized for its medicinal properties. Here are a few benefits of the compound cinnamaldehyde, the oil largely responsible for cinnamon’s health contributions:

Loaded with potent antioxidants such as polyphenols, it protects the body from oxidative damage caused by free radicals, lowering the risk of disease. Animal and test tube studies indicate cinnamon may provide protective effects against some cancers.

Cinnamon fights inflammation, repairing tissue damage and combating infection. Strong evidence exists it may lessen some key risk factors for not only heart disease, but lowers bad cholesterol, high triglycerides and elevated blood pressure, too.

Shown to significantly increase sensitivity to insulin, it aids in the fight against insulin resistant Type 2 Diabetes. Further, it lowers blood sugar levels by decreasing the amount of glucose that enters the bloodstream, combatting Type 1 Diabetes.

Further, cinnamon fights bacterial and fungal infections, as well as the HIV virus. It has shown as being beneficial in lessening the symptoms of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases in animal studies.

Most cinnamon comes from Sri Lanka (roughly 90%), but is also grown commercially in India, Bangladesh, China, Java, Sumatra, Brazil, Vietnam, Egypt, the West Indies, Madagascar and Zanzibar. The two main types of cinnamon trees are the Cassia cinnamon, having the strongest, spicy-sweet flavor we Americans favor. The second type, Ceylon cinnamon, is the “true” cinnamon with a much different flavor — less sweet with a complex citrus-like flavor. Known as the “old-fashioned” cinnamon, it is prized throughout the world for making both English and Mexican sweets. Some trees produce cinnamon flavors that are ultra sweet, others are very strong, and yet others are more smooth with less of a bite.

Cinnamon and cassia trees grow wild, and need up to thirty years of growth before the fine inner skin (called Cinnamomum) of the fragrant cinnamon tree bark can be harvested without damage to the tree.

Harvesting is largely done by hand. Cinnamon sticks from the upper branches are cut and then the inner bark is removed. It curls naturally into quill-like sticks as it dries. These sticks are used mostly in crafts and decorations, as the distinctive cinnamon flavor is lacking.

As the tree and its oldest growth ages, the flavor intensifies. Flavorful ground cinnamon (like that used in the making of this month’s Box of Paradise from your favorite Chocolate of the Month Club), is made from grinding large chunks of the lower-growing, older bark.

Once harvested, it is usually trucked to the nearest port where it is graded and washed, much like coffee. Large sticks measuring about 18 inches long and about 2 inches in diameter are cleaned and sorted into varying grades depending on the flavor, which is dependent upon the essential oil content. The higher this oil content, the stronger the flavor.

Usually, these sticks are first stored in warehouses; then cracked into smaller pieces and shipped out in burlap bags to facilities which finish the process. Shipments worldwide provide the world with the well-known cinnamon spice.

This Month’s Heavenly Chocolate Selection: “BOX OF PARADISE”

Outer pieces are  MILK CHOCOLATE CINNAMON & WHITE CHOCOLATE COCONUT SMOOTH CHOCOLATE ‘MELTS’.  Middle pieces are  WHITE & DARK CHOCOLATE COVERED HAZELNUT & CRANBERRY BARS

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