Frequently Asked Question
How to Use a Vanilla Pod?
Cut Off the Pod in half
with a Knife
Scrape Out all the Seeds from the Vanilla Pod
The most efficient way to get the flavor from the vanilla is to add it to something warm, which helps to disperse the seeds and the oils.
What is Vanilla?
Vanilla is an extremely popular ingredient in many different culinary preparations around the world, and the scent of vanilla is unmistakable to most people. This flavoring is derived from the orchids of the Vanilla genus, which bears fruits that are shaped like pods. These pods can range in size from 5-22cm in length and are considered of a higher quality when they are larger. However, these pods must be hand-picked at precisely the right time to ensure that the seed pods don’t pop and that they are properly ripe. Harvesting the pods is a time-intensive process, but there is a global demand for vanilla in many different forms, not only for its use in food preparation but also in natural healing.
3 Major Species of Vanilla currently are grown globally, all of which derive from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern-day Mexico. They are V. planifolia (syn. V. fragrans), grown on Madagascar, Réunion, and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean V. tahitensis, grown in the South Pacific; and V. pompona, found in the West Indies, Central America, and South America.
Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive. Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavor. As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture, and aromatherapy.
Benefits of Vanilla
Skin Benefits of Vanilla
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.
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.
Vanilla is rich in antioxidants which prevent and reverse skin damage caused by free radicals. 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.
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.
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. 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.
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.
Promotes Hair Growth
Both carrier and essential oils help in promoting hair growth. 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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the best benefits of vanilla extract is that it can help calm the stomach in case of a feeling of nausea. 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.
Treatment of Cough
Cough syrups often use vanilla extract as a flavoring 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.
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 and infection.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Beneficial for Children
Vanilla extract added to a glass of warm water with a teaspoon of sugar can help reduce fever and fight infections in children. Besides, the taste may also appeal to children.
Why is Vanilla so expensive?
Vanilla Production Flow
FLOW 1: PLANTING
Vanilla grows as a vine, climbing up an existing tree (also called a tutor), pole, or other support. It can be grown in a wood (on trees), in a plantation (on trees or poles), or in a "shader", in increasing orders of productivity. Its growth environment is referred to as its terroir, and includes not only the adjacent plants, but also the climate, geography, and local geology. Left alone, it will grow as high as possible on the support, with few flowers. Every year, growers fold the higher parts of the plant downward so the plant stays at heights accessible by a standing human. This also greatly stimulates flowering.
The distinctively flavored compounds are found in the fruit, which results from the pollination of the flower. These seed pods are roughly a third of an inch by six inches, and brownish red to black when ripe. Inside of these pods is an oily liquid full of tiny seeds.One flower produces one fruit. Vanilla Planifolia flowers are hermaphroditic, they carry both male (anther) and female (sigma) organs.
FLOW 2: HARVEST
Harvesting vanilla fruits is as labor-intensive as pollinating the blossoms. Immature, dark green pods are not harvested. Pale yellow discoloration that commences at the distal end of the fruits is not a good indication of the maturity of pods. Each fruit ripens at its own time, requiring a daily harvest. "Current methods for determining the maturity of vanilla (Vanilla planifolia Andrews) beans are unreliable. Yellowing at the blossom end, the current index, occurs before beans accumulate maximum glucovanillin concentrations. Beans left on the vine until they turn brown have higher glucovanillin concentrations but may split and have low quality. Judging bean maturity is difficult as they reach full size soon after pollination. Glucovanillin accumulates from 20 weeks, maximum about 40 weeks after pollination. Mature green beans have 20% dry matter but less than 2% glucovanillin. The accumulation of dry matter and glucovanillin are highly correlated.To ensure the finest flavor from every fruit, each individual pod must be picked by hand just as it begins to split on the end.
If the fruit is more than 15 cm in length, it is categorized as first-quality. The largest fruits greater than 16 cm and up to as much as 21 cm are usually reserved for the gourmet vanilla market, for sale to top chefs and restaurants. If the fruits are between 10 and 15 cm long, pods are under the second-quality category, and fruits less than 10 cm in length are under the third-quality category. Each fruit contains thousands of tiny black vanilla seeds. Vanilla fruit yield depends on the care and management given to the hanging and fruiting vines. Any practice directed to stimulate aerial root production has a direct effect on vine productivity. A five-year-old vine can produce between 1.5 and 3 kg of pods, and this production can increase up to 6 kg after a few years.
FLOW 3: CURING & FERMENTATION
Several methods exist in the market for curing vanilla; nevertheless, all of them consist of four basic steps: killing, sweating, slow-drying, and conditioning of the beans.
The vegetative tissue of the vanilla pod is killed to stop the vegetative growth of the pods and disrupt the cells and tissue of the fruits, which initiates enzymatic reaction responsible for the aroma. The method of killing varies, but may be accomplished by heating in hot water, freezing, or scratching, or killing by heating in an oven or exposing the beans to direct sunlight. The different methods give different profiles of enzymatic activity. Testing has shown mechanical disruption of fruit tissues can cause curing processes, including the degeneration of glucovanillin to vanillin, so the reasoning goes that disrupting the tissues and cells of the fruit allow enzymes and enzyme subtract to interact.
Hot-water killing may consist of dipping the pods in hot water (63–65 °C) for three minutes.
FLOW 4: SWEATING
Sweating is a hydrolytic and oxidative process. Traditionally, it consists of keeping fruits, for 7 to 10 days, densely stacked and insulated in wool or other cloth. This retains a temperature of 45–65 °C (113–149 °F) and high humidity. Daily exposure to the sun may also be used, or dipping the fruits in hot water. The fruits are brown and have attained much of the characteristic vanilla flavor and aroma by the end of this process, but still retain a 60-70% moisture content by weight.
FLOW 5: DRYING
Reduction of the beans to 25–30% moisture by weight, to prevent rotting and to lock the aroma in the pods, is always achieved by some exposure of the beans to air, and usually (and traditionally) intermittent shade and sunlight. Fruits may be laid out in the sun during the mornings and returned to their boxes in the afternoons, or spread on a wooden rack in a room for three to four weeks, sometimes with periods of sun exposure. Drying is the most problematic of the curing stages; unevenness in the drying process can lead to the loss of vanillin content of some fruits by the time the others are cured.
FLOW 6: CONDITIONING
Conditioning is performed by storing the pods for five to six months in closed boxes, where the fragrance develops. The processed fruits are sorted, graded, bundled, and wrapped in paraffin paper and preserved for the development of desired bean qualities, especially flavor and aroma. The cured vanilla fruits contain an average of 2.5% vanillin.
FLOW 7: GRADING
Once fully cured, the vanilla fruits are sorted by quality and graded. Several vanilla fruit grading systems are in use. Each country which produces vanilla has its own grading system, and individual vendors, in turn, sometimes use their own criteria for describing the quality of the fruits they offer for sale. In general, vanilla fruit grade is based on the length, appearance (color, sheen, presence of any splits, presence of blemishes), and moisture content of the fruit. Whole, dark, plump and oily pods that are visually attractive, with no blemishes, and that have a higher moisture content are graded most highly. Such pods are particularly prized by chefs for their appearance and can be featured in gourmet dishes. Beans that show localized signs of disease or other physical defects are cut to remove the blemishes; the shorter fragments left are called "cuts" and are assigned lower grades, as are fruits with lower moisture contents. Lower-grade fruits tend to be favored for uses in which the appearance is not as important, such as in the production of vanilla flavoring extract and in the fragrance industry.
Higher-grade fruits command higher prices in the market. However, because grade is so dependent on visual appearance and moisture content, fruits with the highest grade do not necessarily contain the highest concentration of characteristic flavor molecules such as vanillin, and are not necessarily the most flavorful.