What is Vanilla?
The mere mention of vanilla cake, vanilla custard or vanilla ice cream makes us drool! This vanilla flavor is relished all over the world. Only some of us are aware of its source and origin. Let us know more about this flavor that has been a part of sumptuous desserts for centuries.
The vanilla ice cream and other desserts that we love eating attribute their flavor to the presence of vanilla extract which is derived from vanilla beans. These beans are sun-dried pods obtained from the orchids of the genus Vanilla. Its amazingly soft and sweet flavor and fragrance make it a popular ingredient in sweet drinks and confectioneries. These beans are obtained through a labor-intensive process.
Vanilla Essence and Extract:
The vanilla plant is an herbaceous climbing vine (1) which requires a supporting tree or pole for optimal growth. It bears trumpet-shaped flowers which are naturally pollinated by bees and humming birds and even hand pollinated. Unripe vanilla pods turn yellow when they grow 5 to 8 inches long and are ready to harvest. These are then blanched in boiling water, sweated and sun dried for a few weeks until they turn dark brown and wrinkled. Then the white crystalline essence known as vanillin is extracted from some superior quality beans. This essence is referred to as the vanilla flavor.
The most common form of vanilla is vanilla extract which is prepared by percolating chopped vanilla beans in ethyl alcohol and water for about 48 hours. The mixture is stored for several months and then filtered. Several varieties of vanilla are available in the market of which Madagascar vanilla is the most widely used. This rich sweet variety accounts for 75% of the vanilla production while the remaining comprises of vanilla from Tahiti and Mexico.
Vanilla pods contain several tiny black seeds which are used to flavor many sweet dishes and chocolates. Vanillin is the essence of vanilla bean but artificial vanillin is also produced on a large scale from wood pulp by-products. The vanilla flavoring is often a blend of pure and imitation vanilla. The appearance of tiny black specks in a vanilla flavored dish is an indication of pure vanilla.
Skin Benefits Of Vanilla Essence Extract:
You might find this surprising. The benefits of vanilla extract or essence extend to your skin as well. It is used as an ingredient in several skincare products like body lotions, lip balms, body butters and creams to impart fragrance.
1. Treatment of Acne:
The antibacterial properties of vanilla make it beneficial for the treatment of acne. Vanillin, through its antibacterial effects, helps cleanse your skin, reducing the occurrence of pimples and acne (2).
[ Read: Laser Treatments For Acne Scars ]
2. Anti-ageing Benefits:
Vanilla is rich in antioxidants which prevent and reverse skin damage caused by free radicals (3). It helps to slow down signs of ageing like fine lines, wrinkles and age spots. It is widely used in the cosmetic industry for its fragrance and anti-ageing benefits. Applying raw vanilla beans infused with organic oil imparts a great chocolaty fragrance besides making your skin smooth and soft.
3. Soothes Burns:
Vanilla has been used as a traditional remedy to heal burns, wounds and cuts. Concentrated vanilla extracts or essential oil should not be applied directly on recent burns. Topical treatments containing vanilla extracts might be helpful. It is advisable to consult your doctor before using any such home remedies for burns (4).
4. Promotes Healthy Skin:
Vanilla is a good source of B-vitamins like niacin, thiamin, Vitamin B6 and pantothenic acid which play an important role in the maintenance of healthy skin. The antioxidant properties of vanilla protect your skin from damage caused by environmental pollutants and toxins (5). You can prepare a scrub to revive your skin from within. All you need to do is slice open 5 vanilla beans to scrape out its seeds. Add these seeds along with 3 tablespoons brown sugar and 2 drops vanilla essential oil to freshly squeezed lemon juice. Mix the ingredients and apply it on your face. Massage for a few minutes and then rinse off with warm water. Then, splash some cold water on your face.
Hair Benefits Of Vanilla:
The list of benefits of vanilla is incomplete if we do not talk about its role in hair care. It is a good source of many nutrients which help in the maintenance of hair health.
5. Vanilla for Silky Hair:
Vanilla when mixed with other ingredients can make your hair silky, shiny and smooth. You can prepare a hair pack for this purpose. Melt about 4 oz. shea butter in a boiler. After it has fully melted, add 5 drops of vanilla essential oil and 2 tablespoons each of almond, jojoba and castor oils. After cooling, blend this mixture until it achieves a softer consistency. You can apply this mixture on your hair for 10 to 15 minutes and wash off with a mild shampoo. This will make your hair soft and manageable without making it sticky. This mixture can be stored at room temperature or refrigerated for future use.
6. Promotes Hair Growth:
Both carrier and essential oils help in promoting hair growth (6). These oils can be combined with vanilla essential oil for a hot oil treatment. To begin with, detangle your hair with a wide-toothed comb and rinse it thoroughly with warm water. After this, warm ¼ cup of any carrier oil such as virgin olive, jojoba, almond or coconut oil on high heat for about 30 seconds. Add 10 drops each of lavender and vanilla essential oils to it and mix thoroughly. Applying this on your hair from the roots to the ends, massage your scalp in circular motions for 2 to 3 minutes. Ensure to apply it along the full length of your hair strands, concentrating more on the dry ends. Fasten your hair with a hair clip and wrap a warm towel around your head. Leave for 15 minutes. Then again wrap a warm towel for another 15 minutes. Wash off with a mild shampoo.
The quantity of oil that you use depends upon your hair texture. This will make your hair softer, fuller and shinier besides imparting an amazing scent.
Health Benefits of Vanilla:
Vanilla is much more than just a sweet and fragrant flavor. Pure vanilla extract possesses several medicinal properties and can be beneficial for your health in various ways.
7. Treatment of Anxiety and Depression:
Certain neurological studies have proved that vanilla extract can have a positive effect on those suffering from depression and anxiety disorders. Vanilla scent is specifically helpful for this purpose. Sipping water or milk containing vanilla extract helps reduce anxiety in some people (7).
This aromatic spice is beneficial for your nervous system. Research conducted by the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York indicated that exposure to vanilla aromatherapy has proven to be effective in alleviating the symptoms of claustrophobia.
8. Aids Weight Loss:
Certain studies have shown that vanilla extract can help people lose weight. Though exercise and diet play a primary role in weight loss, these efforts can be supplemented with the intake of vanilla extract for greater benefits. Further research is needed to substantiate this claim (8).
9. Relieves Nausea:
One of the best benefits of vanilla extract is that it can help calm the stomach in case of a feeling of nausea (9). All you need to do is add a few drops of vanilla extract to a glass of water and sip it slowly. The amazing vanilla scent will help to relieve the feeling of nausea. In fact, it is as good as nausea medicine and can effectively substitute it.
10. Treatment of Cough:
Cough syrups often use vanilla extract as a flavoring (10) to mask their bitter taste. Though further research is needed in this regard, the mild anaesthetic properties of vanilla extract can relieve symptoms such as pain from a sore throat or headache.
11. Dental Health:
Vanillin in vanilla is similar to capsaicin in chilli peppers and euganols in spices such as cinnamon. This compound has a positive effect on the central nervous system. Capsaicin is an effective pain reliever while euganols act as topical anaesthetics. Vanilla possesses both these properties which help fight toothache (11) and infection.
12. Treatment of Digestive Disorders:
Vanilla infused herbal tea can relieve digestive problems. Water boiled with vanilla beans is a traditional remedy for vomiting and stomach upsets. Its rich aroma is effective in easing queasiness (12).
13. Aphrodisiac Properties:
Vanilla has been used as an aphrodisiac since ancient times. Certain studies on aromatherapy have proved that vanilla can increase sexual desire by boosting testosterone levels in men. Usage of vanilla has proven to be effective in curing their impotency. Its aroma induces feelings of pleasure and satiation (13).
14. Treatment of Menstrual Problems:
Vanilla extract is beneficial in the regulation of menstruation. It can be used by women with irregular periods to regulate their cycles. Though several medications are available for the treatment of these problems, slight problems can be cured by making vanilla extract a part of your diet.
15. Aids Wound Healing:
The usage of vanilla extract for healing wounds dates back to ancient times. Its anti-inflammatory properties can soothe and calm inflamed areas on the skin. It is considered a great home remedy for wound healing. Note that the direct use of vanilla extract on open wounds and burns should be avoided.
16. Antioxidant Properties:
The distinct flavor and health benefits of vanilla essence can be attributed to the presence of about 200 compounds which possess antioxidant properties. The high level of antioxidants reduces free radicals in your body. These free radicals are the waste products resulting from normal as well as harmful metabolic processes. They can cause various diseases including cancer. Vanilla possesses both antioxidant and cancer-fighting properties (14).
17. Beneficial for Children:
Vanilla extract added to a glass of warm water with a teaspoon of sugar can help reduce fever (15) and fight infections in children. Besides, the taste may also appeal to children.
The nutritional value of vanilla is what makes it beneficial for your skin, hair and health in so many ways. Vanilla extract is the storehouse of essential oils, vitamins and minerals as well as simple and complex sugars. The in-depth nutritional profile of this aromatic spice can be understood from the table and explanation given below.
|See the table below for in depth analysis of nutrients:Vanilla extract (Vanilla planifolia), Nutritional value per 100 g.|
(Source: USDA National Nutrient data base)
|Principle||Nutrient value||Percentage of RDA|
|Total Fat||0.06 g||<1%|
|Dietary Fiber||0.0 g||0%|
|Pantothenic caid||0.035 mg||0.5%|
|Vitamin A||0 IU||0%|
|Vitamin C||0 mg||0%|
- Vanillin: Vanillin is the primary chemical component in vanilla beans. They also contain traces of other constituents like euganol, caproic acid, phenoles, phenole ether, alcohols, aids, aliphatic and aromatic carbohydrates, lactones, esters and carbonyl compounds.
- Vitamins: Vanilla extract comprises of small amounts of B-complex vitamins like niacin, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, Vitamin B6 and thiamine. These vitamins aid in enzyme synthesis, nervous system function and regulation of body metabolism.
- Minerals: Vanilla extract also contains traces of minerals like magnesium, calcium, manganese, potassium, iron and zinc.
Vanilla is not just a fragrant spice for flavoring desserts and confectioneries as there are so many associated benefits. This reason is strong enough to continue enjoying your vanilla ice creams, chocolates, custards and cakes. You can use vanilla extracts for flavoring your desserts at home. Beware of synthetically produced artificial vanilla essence available in the market. Original vanilla is rare and expensive. The vanilla extract nutrition benefits can definitely outweigh the price and effort made to obtain it.