Vanilla: Important Facts, Health Benefits, and Recipes

Explore the health benefits, history, and uses of vanilla, the fruit of an orchid plant, and learn about its various forms, including pods, powder, and extract.

What Is Vanilla?

  • Vanilla is the fruit of an orchid plant, which grows in the form of a dark brown bean pod that is long and skinny. It is consumed as the pod, as an extract, in sugar, or in powder form.
  • Vanilla grows as a vine, reaching lengths of up to 300 feet. Green-yellow flowers sprout from the vines.

Is Vanilla Good For You?

Yes. There are many health benefits from consuming vanilla.

Health Benefits Of Vanilla

  1. Vanilla can have a calming effect
  • Studies have shown that vanilla has a calming effect on newborns born prematurely who smell vanilla before and during a blood test.
  • Smelling vanilla can have calming effects on adults as well. It can provide some relief from sleep apnea , a sleep disorder where breathing stops and starts.
  1. Vanilla may help relieve toothaches
  • The alcohol in vanilla extract can numb some toothache pain and the antioxidants could provide healing effects.
  • Putting a few drops of vanilla extract on a cotton ball and applying it to the toothache could provide some relief.

Vanilla may help our heart health

  1. Vanilla may reduce inflammation
  • Vanillin (the active ingredient in vanilla) may help conditions like arthritis if used in aromatherapy because of its calming effect says
  • A study showed that vanilla may be anti-neuroinflammatory (may help with cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s)

Vanilla has antioxidants

  • Vanilla is rich in antioxidants that could help preserve foods

Vanilla may help hair healthVanilla added to an oil may strengthen the hair and induce blood flow to the scalp, encouraging growth and more aesthetically pleasing hair.Vanilla may help with anxiety

  • The smell of vanilla is known to directly impact the brain and induce calmness, maybe because it is associated with desserts like ice cream.

Vanilla may help with acne

  • Some people claim that the antibacterial nature of vanilla may help with acne, but more research is needed in this area

Vanilla may alleviate respiratory conditions

  • Vanilla extract may help to coat the throat when mixed with warm water and provide a calming effect to the throat.

Vanilla may promote healthy digestion

  • The scent of this herb is known to calm feelings of nausea and vanilla-infused herbal tea may soothe inflammation in the gut.

History, Background About General Facts of Vanilla

  • Vanilla native to South and Central America and the Caribbean; and the first people to have cultivated it were the Totonacs of Mexico’s east coast.
  • Aztecs invaded the Totonacs, and developed a taste for the vanilla pods. They named the fruit "black flower", after the matured fruit, which shrivels and turns black shortly after being picked.
  • The French used vanilla to flavor ice cream.
  • Vanilla was used in Coca-Cola(R) , which was advertised as an “esteemed brain tonic and Intellectual beverage.”
  • Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world (after saffron) because its production is so labor-intensive.
  • The flowers on the vanilla plant are pollinated by melipona bees . Each flower only remains open for 24 hours. If it isn’t pollinated, it will wilt and die.
  • If pollination is successful, a fruit develops in the form of a 6-to-10-inch-long pod, filled with thousands of minuscule black seeds.
  • Because of this short window, vanilla beans used to be rare.
  • In 1841, a 12-year-old boy on an island in the Indian Ocean, figured out how to hand-pollinate the vanilla flowers, which changed everything.
  • After this discovery, vanilla plantations popped up around the world, from Madagascar to India, Tahiti, and Indonesia.
  • Today about 75 percent of the world’s vanilla comes from Madagascar and Réunion .
  • The pods take about 9 months to ripen and then harvesting the pods is a time-intensive curing process (which is why they are expensive), but there is a lot of demand for vanilla across the world.
  • Vanilla has at least 250 different flavor and fragrance components. The most prominent of these is vanillin, which is easy to synthetically recreate.
  • Vanillin can be made from many sources:
    • from lignin, a by-product of the wood pulp and paper industry
    • from eugenol, a component of clove oil
    • from castoreum, a product from beavers, though that isn’t used as frequently (it is called natural flavoring)
  • Synthetic vanillin is cheaper than real vanilla and most vanilla-flavored foods, beverages, cigarettes, and perfumes are made from synthetic vanillin
  • Vanilla flavoring in food is made by adding vanilla extract or by cooking vanilla pods in the liquid preparation.
  • Good-quality vanilla has a strong, aromatic flavor, but food with small amounts of low-quality vanilla or artificial vanilla-like flavorings are more common, since true vanilla is much more expensive.

What Are The Cuisines That Regularly Include Vanilla?

  • Italian - panna cotta
  • French - vanilla bean ice cream, madeleines (cookies), creme brulee
  • Mexican - flan
  • Tahitian - fish with vanilla sauce
  • Madagascar - vanilla curry chicken

What Is The Best Way To Store Vanilla ?

The best way to store vanilla extract and vanilla beans is in a cool, dry place away from heat and sunlight, such as a pantry.

What Are The Different Types Of Vanilla?

Vanilla beans come mainly from Madagascar, Tahiti, Mexico, and Indonesia

Vanilla is consumed in these forms:

  • Whole vanilla bean pod
  • Powder (pods are dried and ground)
  • Extract (in alcoholic or glycerol solution)
  • Vanilla sugar (sugar and vanilla extract)

Toxicity and Side Effects Of Vanilla

Imitation vanilla doesn’t have the same benefits as natural vanilla extract Some vanilla extracts, both natural and synthetic, may contain added sugar. So read the label if that is something you are looking to avoid.

Contact dermatitis: The sap from the cut stems of most species of vanilla orchid may cause dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) if it comes in contact with bare skin.

Vanilla extract is usually in alcohol. They make some alcohol-free ones if that is something you want to avoid.

Nutritional Facts
1 bean pod
Amount per serving
0 g
0 g
0 g
0 mg