Why Vanilla Is The Most Underrated Spice

The vanilla plant is an orchid with vines that grow up to ten meters in height. Once vanilla is planted, it can take somewhere from three to four years to bear flowers and fruit. After ten to twelve years, the plant can no longer produce enough vanilla. It is grown in tropical climates and has a very specific growing process that makes it possible for us to enjoy the sweet smell of vanilla all year round.  

The best vanilla comes from Madagascar, Mexico Tahiti, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Most grocery stores do not sell pure vanilla, but vanilla extract and essence. That is why it is so expensive. You see, vanilla plants are very hard to grow and manage once they have been cut down from the tree. They don’t produce flowers repeatedly like other plants do and require a ton of care and attention before they produce anything at all. Vanilla beans must be stored somewhere very cold to be preserved for a long time.  

Vanilla extract is the liquid produced by infusing the vanilla bean with alcohol. While fresh vanilla beans are an important part of the recipe for making vanilla extract, vanilla beans are only available for a short period each year. Vanilla extracts made with vanilla beans outside of the growing season will not taste as good as vanilla extracts made with beans when in bloom.  

In order to make vanilla extract, the vanilla bean is split lengthwise, and the inside of the bean is wiped out with vodka or another strong-smelling liquid. The bean is then filled with a neutral alcohol like vodka or a combination of alcohol and vanilla flavoring. Once the bean is filled, the alcohol is then re-added to the extract and the beans are closed back up. The beans are then stored in a cool dark place, where they will release the alcohol-infused vanilla extract over time.  

Vanilla essence, also called vanillin, is a natural product made by infusing real vanilla beans with alcohol. Vanilla essence and extracts are the same thing. Vanilla essence is sometimes abbreviated as “EVOO” when used in desserts and baked goods to give vanilla its sweet smell and taste. You will often find vanilla extract in baking recipes and homemade ice cream.  

Vanilla orchids are usually pollinated in the wild by bees.  Since there are no bees found in Madagascar, the vanilla orchids must be pollinated by hand.  The yellow vanilla flower is known to typically bloom just one day per year, for only a few hours. Therefore, pollination of the flowers is done by people working on the farm. Hand-pollination of vanilla flowers is done between October and January. 

After the pollination of the Vanilla flower, there is a gap of seven to nine months before the harvesting of mature vanilla beans is done. At this phase, they are called green vanilla beans and look like green beans.  The more time the vanilla bean is allowed to mature on the plant, the more concentrated the vanilla flavoring will be. It takes six kilos of green vanilla beans to produce one kilo of black vanilla.  

High quality vanilla depends on the concentration of the aroma compound vanillin in it, which determines its pricing as well. Care has to be taken to harvest the vanilla bean on time because if it remains too long on the plant, the bean may burst, resulting in low quality vanilla that’s priced at a lower market price.  

Health Benefits Of Vanilla 

1. Vanilla is high in antioxidants - The flavoring comes from natural vanilla flavoring, so it is unlikely to have any negative effects on your body. Vanilla contains antioxidant properties that can help prevent disease. Antioxidants are natural compounds found in plants that help fight against the effects of free radicals, which are dangerous molecules that can damage your DNA and lead to diseases like cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Vitamin A is one of the most important antioxidants that can lower the chances of these diseases.  

2. Vanilla is anti-aging - The antioxidants in vanilla can help reduce the effects of aging on your skin. Vanilla is rich in vitamin C, which can help prevent acne, sun damage, and wrinkles.   

3. Vanilla can improve digestion - Vanilla helps to reduce the amount of acid in your stomach, which can reduce the risk of developing stomach ulcers.  

4. Vanilla can help you sleep - The flavoring from vanilla can help to relax your body and calm your nerves.  

5. Vanilla is good for the heart - Vanilla can lower blood pressure and reduce blood platelet aggregation. This can help prevent, or even treat, conditions like heart disease and stroke.  

6. Vanilla is soothing for your skin - The antioxidants in vanilla can help improve the appearance of your skin, including wrinkles and skin discoloration.