Vanilla Extract: Uses, Recipe Ideas, And Its Surprising Health Benefits

Vanilla extract has been used since the era of Montezuma and used to flavor drinks and foods for centuries. Vanilla beans are created by having the beans dried and cured before treating them using alcohol to come up with a liquid that is dark in color.

vanilla extract in bottle with tag

We love our food and we love them even more for having some health benefits. Unfortunately, the proliferation of processed food items in the market today can make it hard to hit the sweet spot in terms of finding the right balance between good taste and good health. This can make it challenging for people to look for the right kinds of food items. One food item that can be full of flavor and at the same provide health benefits is Vanilla, specifically vanilla extract. In this article, we will look at the possible uses, recipes, and health benefits of vanilla and vanilla extract.

Vanilla Extract: A Brief Backgrounder

People usually look at vanilla as their most liked flavor in pudding or ice cream. However, this extract can provide individuals more than just a taste that is delicious. Vanilla also has a vast array of health benefits. It is critical, though, that people get the real kind instead of the version that was cheaper as these tend to just be imitation or inferior products. This flavor can give sweets and baked goods an aroma and taste that is delicious. In fact, pure vanilla can offer an aroma that is almost intoxicating. But aside from providing accents that are sweet to just about all the different recipes, vanilla extract can provide optimal flavors with minimal impact on calorie intake.

But how is a vanilla extract made? Vanilla is a form of orchid that is climbing and tropical and is grown in places such as Tahiti, South America, Central America, and Mexico. The flavor is taken from the plant’s pods which are also referred to or called beans. Vanilla extract has been used since the era of Montezuma and used to flavor drinks and foods for centuries. Vanilla beans are created by having the beans dried and cured before treating them using alcohol to come up with a liquid that is dark in color. It must be noted that commercially synthesized vanillin is different from 100% vanilla extract as the former does not contain the health benefits of the latter. 

Real vanilla contains around 250 to 500 fragrance and flavor compounds and among these compounds, vanillin is the most studied and most prominent. As a form of spice that is natural, vanilla can be quite pricey (next to saffron) which is the primary reason why a lot of artificial vanilla products are made from substitute chemicals such as petrochemicals. These versions that are artificial or imitations are considerably cheaper than the real thing (about 20 times cheaper).

Some of the Health Benefits Vanilla

Enumerated below are some for the health benefits of vanilla or vanilla extract:

Vanilla has benefits that are antibacterial

One of the health benefits of vanilla includes properties that are antibacterial which means that bacteria can aid in the prevention of infection. Molecules, the journal, had some research published in November of 2014 showed that essential oils containing vanilla applied to medical equipment prevented the growth of certain bacteria. 

A study conducted earlier in 2011 and published in the Journal of Food Protection also noted that vanillic acid, ethyl vanillin, and vanillin all have properties that are antibacterial specifically against the bacteria species known as Cronobacter. The said bacteria species has been shown to result in fatal infections in young children and for individuals with weakened immune responses. This specific bacteria can affect food products during preparation and food processing.

Vanilla contains Antioxidants

A journal published in 2013 noted that vanillin is a potent free radical scavenger. These free radicals can naturally form within the human body but can show up in excessive amounts if taken in foods consumed and through exposure in the environment. Excessive free radicals can lead to cellular damage and are believed to be a major contributor to cancer development along with other problems with health.

Aside from vanillin’s antitumor and antioxidant qualities, it has also been noted that vanillin has possible applications in cancer therapeutic treatment for individuals suffering from cancer. Another more recent study conducted in 2016 showed that vanillin in different products can be beneficial in the inhibition of free radicals that can lead to the development of tumors.

Vanillin has possible antidepressant activities

The aroma of vanilla is calming and soothing for a lot of individuals who prefer this kind of flavor so it comes as no surprise that vanilla can have effects that are antidepressant. Evidence suggests that 100 milligrams of vanillin per kilo of body weight can have effects that are antidepressant that can be compared to fluoxetine, a medication that is also antidepressant (with a brand name called Prozac). Unfortunately, this medication can have some side effects that include sex drive, sleeplessness, and strange dreams. Vanillin can provide an alternative form of treatment without these side effects and are uncomfortable. It is important to note though before shifting from antidepressants to vanilla extract, individuals should also check with doctors.

Vanilla can also provide Potassium and Magnesium

Vanilla has potassium and magnesium, both of which are essential minerals for health. Kidney function is greatly influenced by an individual’s Potassium intake along with proper nerve function, muscle contraction, and heart function. Adults require around 2,600 and 3,400 milligrams on a daily basis.  One tablespoon of vanilla extract can help in the regulation of blood pressure, improved functions of the nerve, and the contribution of muscle function.

Some Vanilla Recipes to Try Out

Below are some vanilla recipes to try out:

  1. Vanilla Sauce in Blueberry Quick Bread– This bread is full of blueberries and with vanilla poured on top, then the taste is comparable to pudding. 
  2. Vanilla Bean Fizz- This beverage is fizzy (as the name implies) and is perfect for all seasons especially during the holidays and  during summertime
  3. Rum Vanilla Cranberry Sauce- Cranberry sauce is delicious on its own but adding some vanilla to the recipe can really up this sauce a few notches
  4. Vanilla and Cinnamon Kissed Apple Latkes- These fried pancakes are crispy and with the added vanilla, the flavor, and health benefits are undeniable.
list of vanilla extract healthy benefits

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