Is vanilla extract healthy? Vanilla is more than just a delicious flavoring you can add to drinks and baked goods. In fact, vanilla has been shown to have powerful anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial benefits that can help boost our immunity and stay healthy. And, vanilla has even been shown to be helpful in treating anxiety and depression. Read on to learn more about the five incredible benefits of vanilla, including the health benefits of vanilla extract.
While chocolate is a treasure, vanilla has proven its worthiness as a competitor for America’s favorite flavor. It makes sense — who doesn’t just love the smell of vanilla? Though we usually see vanilla packed in a small bottle in its extract form, when we talk about vanilla, which comes from the genus Vanilla, we usually mean the vanilla beans that are harvested from tropical climbing orchids. These beautiful flowers, which can be primarily found in Mexico, Central America, South America and Tahiti, have pods that are used to create vanilla extract or vanilla flavoring.
For centuries, vanilla has been prized for its rich taste by various cultures. But vanilla add more than just flavor to our food! Vanilla has some wonderful health benefits that we shouldn’t overlook. Read more to learn about vanilla benefits and how to use it in your everyday foods.
What is Vanilla?
The Totonacs of Mexico were the first to learn how to cultivate the vanilla bean, and when the Aztecs conquered Mexico in the 15th century, they took over control of vanilla orchid plants. Thereafter, the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, taking the vanilla bean back to Europe where it was primarily used by rich nobles for its fragrant and delicious taste.
Today, vanilla is one of the most popular flavors in the world, and one of the most expensive spices, running a close second behind saffron. This makes sense considering the harvesting of vanilla beans is labor intensive and time-sensitive; the flowers open for just about a day during its two-month blooming season.
Vanilla extract is made by curing and drying the pods of the flower. The pods are then treated with alcohol to create that dark-colored liquid we store in our cabinets today. Vanilla powder, on the other hand, comes directly from the beans and does not get processed with alcohol. In fact, vanilla powder can be better for baking treats that require higher temperatures and longer cooking times, because vanilla extract may lose some of its flavor in high heat thanks to the alcohol content.
5 Health Benefits of Vanilla
Vanilla is rich in magnesium and potassium, containing as much as 500 flavor and fragrance compounds, which vanillin being the most prominent and studied. Let’s dive into the 5 incredible health benefits of vanilla:
Vanilla has powerful antioxidants.
Numerous studies have examined vanilla’s antioxidant activity and its impact on health. One study conducted in 2013 revealed vanillin to be a powerful scavenger of free radicals. While free radicals can be formed naturally, the buildup of free radicals can cause oxidative damage, which is linked to a variety of diseases, health problems and even cancer.
In fact, the potential application of vanillin in the treatment of cancer patients has also been studied. In a 2016 study, vanillin-containing products were shown to be possibly useful in inhibiting the free radicals that are responsible for certain tumor development. Interestingly enough, vanilla extract has been shown to have even higher antioxidant properties than vanillin, displaying potential in future nutraceutical health supplements and food preservation.
2. Vanilla may help prevent infection.
Vanilla has been shown to have antibacterial properties. In a 2014 study, researchers found that vanilla essential oil can inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria on medical devices. In an earlier study, researchers found that vanillin was able to combat Cronobacter species, a bacteria that causes severe and sometimes fatal infections in infants, elderly and other people with weaker immune systems. This specific study was significant in highlighting the importance of the antibacterial benefits of vanilla and vanillin. Indeed, Cronobacter bacteria can contaminate food during both preparation and processing of food, which can leave many people vulnerable to the effects of this damaging bacteria. The antibacterial properties of vanilla just might be the key to helping protect against harmful bacteria like Cronobacter bacteria.
3. Vanilla may reduce depression and anxiety.
This may not be that big of a surprise — the smell of vanilla alone is soothing and relaxing. After all, it is a popular scent for candles, lotion, perfume and other aromatic products. A two-month mice study in 2013 showed that vanillin, in a dose of 100 mg per kilogram of body weight (or 45 mg per pound), has antidepressant effects. The study even notes that vanillin’s antidepressant benefits are comparable to common antidepressant medications like Prozac, which is a fluoxetine product. However, unlike fluoxetine, no side effects were reported.
Additionally, in 1994, a study by the Sloan Kettering Cancer Institute found that humidifier air administered with a vanilla-like scent reduced anxiety in MRI cancer screening patients, more than humidified air alone. Those exposed to the fragrance were reported to display 63% less anxiety than patients who were only exposed to unscented air. Even the sweet smell of vanilla can be a powerful healing tool for those with depression and anxiety.
4. Vanilla may treat inflammation.
Though studies are limited when it comes to the full potential of vanilla’s anti-inflammatory benefits, one promising rat study showed that vanillin proved to be significant in aiding in the prevention and reduction of inflammatory damage due to liver injuries. Specifically, vanilla anti-inflammatory properties played a role in preventing the decrease of protein synthesis, ultimately helping the liver maintain its integrity.
5. Vanilla may lower cholesterol.
A recent study highlighted the potential of vanillin in lowering high cholesterol in hyperlipidemic rats. More studies on vanilla’s impact on cholesterol are in the preliminary stages, but this potential benefit should be studied more because high cholesterol levels have been linked to a much higher risk of heart disease (and death by heart disease) and harmful complications, including stroke, chest pain and heart attacks.
Note that liquid vanilla extract is treated with alcohol, and it actually considered a liquor due to its 35% alcohol content. Of course, when put into practical use, vanilla extract is only called for in very small servings, and so it poses no major health concern when incorporated into recipes.
How To Use:
Adding vanilla into your recipes gives your food a warming flavor that can also be used as a way of reducing the amount of sugar you consume. One delicious way you can consume vanilla is by adding Further Food Vanilla Collagen to your coffee or a smoothie for a rich and dreamy tasting vanilla drink. Further Food Vanilla Collagen is made up of natural vanilla flavor powder, a sugar-free and alcohol-free substitute for vanilla extract! Check out the following recipes for more ways to incorporate vanilla into your diet.
First cultivated by Totonacs of Mexico, vanilla has become a popular spice, known for its soothing fragrance and taste. So, is vanilla extract healthy? Vanilla has powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and it can help treat infection as well as lower cholesterol. Vanilla benefits don’t stop there. This amazing spice has even shown to be helpful in treating depression and anxiety. Try adding Further Food Vanilla Collagen into your coffee or tea to add a rich and creamy taste to your beverages,
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