Home Food Facts Guide Food Facts: Fascinating things to know about vanilla

Food Facts: Fascinating things to know about vanilla

What is it?

The fruit vanilla is derived from an orchid plant that grows in bean pod form in tropic climates. Vanilla is used as a flavoring agent in desserts, pudding, pastries, ice creams, milk shake, and baked goods. It also goes well with sea foods. Not only this, vanilla is also a renowned ingredient of cigars, perfumes, pipe tobaccos and coffees. It is available in varied forms ranging from whole, pure vanilla extract, dried bean pods, vanilla flavoring and vanilla powder. This flavoring agent is a blend of pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla created from artificial flavors. Vanilla is the second most costly spice after saffron.


How we know it?

Vanilla apart from adding flavor to cookie recipes and ice cream, can do much more. It was introduced in the 1700s in the United States by Thomas Jefferson. During his service as France’s King Louis XVI’s Ambassador, Jefferson became familiar with the vanilla beans. During his return to the US, he brought back 200 vanilla beans with him. Prior to the Revolutionary War, ice cream became popular being served at confectionery shops in New York. Ice cream became George Washington’s favourite and he kept 2 pewter pots of ice cream at Mount Vernon at the time of his presidency within 1789-1797.

It was Dolly Madison who created sensation by serving ice-cream as desert in 1812 at second inaugural ball at the White House. Italo Marchiony in 1896 for the first time produced an ice-cream cone in New York and in December 1903 for his unique mould was granted patent. Ice cream cone in the following year was introduced at St Louis World Fair at a time when E.A. Hamwi, Syrian waffle concessionaire started rolling waffles in cone shape for ice cream vendor’s benefit who occupied an adjacent booth. Till date it remains a favorite with billion cones being consumed each year.

Vanilla has a couple of advantages. Drops of vanilla when added to paint can help prevent unpleasant odours. Vanilla bean when placed under a car seat gives fresh aroma thereby eliminating musty odors. Not only this, a teaspoon of vanilla when added to Mexican chilli or Italian tomato sauce helps in cutting acidity of tomatoes.

What’s cool?

The consumption of natural vanilla causes the body to release catecholamines (including adrenalin) – for this reason it is considered to be mildly addictive. When vanilla plants were first exported from Mexico to other tropical climes, they flowered but wouldn’t produce vanilla pods. It was discovered that a bee native to Mexico was the only creature that could pollinate vanilla flowers (vanilla comes from a special species of orchid). Attempts to move the bee to other countries failed and it was not until a slave boy discovered a method of artificial pollination that Mexico lost its monopoly on vanilla. As well as being mildly addictive, vanilla has also been found to block bacterial infections.

How healthy?

Vanilla apart from being just a flavoring agent also possesses a couple of health benefits. It functions as an aphrodisiac. Physicians recommended it to be taken as tincture or infusion for male potency. Vanilla used for aromatherapy was the most loved by men in modern times. Nutritionists have claimed that vanilla is likely to mildly help prevent cancer. The oil extracted from vanilla helps to improve digestion. Vanilla also helps in preventing memory loss and is also used in preparing anxiety, stress reducing and depression medicines. It also helps to fight internal infections as well as all kinds of hyperactivity and inflammations in the body including the circulatory system, respiratory system, nervous system, and excretory system. Vanilla helps to strengthen immunity, regularize irregular menses, reduces inflammation occurring from convulsions and fever, prevents allergy related to hypersensitivity and also helps to cure cough, congestions and other such sinus related problems.

Quick tips

1. Method to use vanilla bean

Take a knife and slice the vanilla bean open lengthwise, scrape seeds into liquid mixture which is to be flavored and also add the bean infusing it for a minimum of 10 minutes. Then remove the vanilla bean, small black seeds remains.

2. Method to store vanilla beans:

One of the best ways for storing vanilla beans is by keeping them in airtight containers and placing them in cool, dark place and away from the oven. To prevent mold, retrieve moist vanilla bean from the container every 2 weeks and put them back into the container after 5 to 10 minutes. Vanilla beans if correctly stored can be kept about for 1 to 2 years. Vanilla beans unlike other spices cannot be reused as they will no longer contain the full and intense aroma. One must always keep in mind that vanilla extract cannot be made use of during baking as the aromatic components begins to volatilize on approximately 300 degrees Fahrenheit.

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