Vanilla is one of the most commonly used flavorings today. We get our vanilla extract from a plant called Vanilla Planifolia. This plant belongs to the Orchidaceae plant family or the orchid family. The plant is a climbing perennial vine that grows anywhere from 30-75 feet high, growing up trees for support. After about 3 years of maturity, the vine will produce large pale green and yellow flowers in bunches of about 20-30. Only a few of the flowers will open at one time and if they do not get pollinated they will only last one day. After pollination, pods will grow. These pods are green, long (4-12 inches) and slender, looking like green beans. This is how it gets it's name the "vanilla bean". It takes nine months on the vine for them to fully develop.
Types of Vanilla Beans
- Vanilla Planifolia - Grown primarily in Mexico and Madagascar, this variety of bean is the one with which most palettes are acquainted. Mexican growers 'kill' beans with exposure to the sun; Madagascar growers do it by steeping beans in hot water. The former creates stiffer beans while the latter creates pliable ones.
- Vanilla Tahitensis - This bean has a gentler, more complex flavor, often called 'fruity' or 'floral,' which makes it a favorite for pastry chefs, bakers, and ice cream makers everywhere. This variety does not require any killing. 'Tahitian' is the market name for this bean.
Five different health benefits of vanilla extract:
- Helps with nausea. A number one benefit of vanilla extract is that it can be used to help calm the stomach when you are feeling nauseous. You simply add a few drops of the extract to a glass of water and sip slowly on it. The combination of the scent and the slow sipping of the extract should help to reduce the feeling of nausea. Not everyone keeps nausea medicine in their homes but most people have vanilla extract so this is a great benefit to be aware of!
- Weight loss aid. Some studies have shown that the scent of vanilla extract alone may assist people who are working to lose weight. The details of this are still being explored. And of course, proper weight loss has to do primarily with good diet and exercise. However, the fact that this everyday household extract might help with losing weight is certainly something to keep in mind when you're dieting.
- Reduces anxiety and stress.Studies have shown that vanilla extract has a positive benefit on people who are dealing with stress and anxiety. The scent helps with this. Sipping water or milk that has some vanilla extract in it may help reduce anxiety in some people. Since stress and anxiety cause so many different health problems, the use of vanilla extract to reduce anxiety and stress can be correlated with a variety of other health benefits as well.
- Healing of wounds. Historically, vanilla extract was used to heal wounds. It is debatable whether or not this is a good use of vanilla extract today. Some people who believe in homemade remedies do use it. Others say that the use of vanilla extract for open wounds and burns is not a good idea. It may not be ideal but it's something to be aware of if you get hurt at home and don't have a good first aid kit handy.
- Regulates menstruation. Women with irregular periods may use vanilla extract to help regulate their cycles. Of course there are more modern methods for period regulation (like the use of birth control pills monitored by a doctor) but if you're only having slight problems then adding vanilla extract to your diet may help.