When I think of vanilla, I think vanilla sugar cookies, vanilla cake with lots of icing, and melty vanilla ice cream in the summer time. Obviously I have a sugar problem, but that’s beside the point. The fact is, while vanilla – both the bean and the extract – is a common household ingredient, it packs some pretty serious health benefits that the common person doesn’t know about.
What is Vanilla? For starters, it’s one of the oldest and most expensive spices around. Vanilla beans are the pods or fruits from a tropical orchid, and are native to the tropical rain forest of Central America. The vanilla plant requires a supporting tree or pole to grow tall. And the plant’s fragile flowers only open for one day to be pollinated by bees or humming birds. However, commercially-grown vanilla is hand pollinated, and most commonly grown in Madagascar, India, Indonesia and the West Indies.
Health Benefits: Surprisingly enough, vanilla extract has been reported to help with nausea. Simply add a few drops to a glass of water and sip slowly to relieve an upset stomach. Another perk is that it’s believed to reduce anxiety and stress, because of its scent. Historically, vanilla was also thought to be an aphrodisiac, especially among males as its scent was found to be arousing. But as far as direct health benefits go, vanilla contains high levels of antioxidants, which is why some nutritionists believe it’s capable of preventing cancer. Although the jury’s still out on some of these claims, vanilla is a much more complex ingredient than anyone would’ve ever thought.
Nutritional Stats: One teaspoon of vanilla extract contains approximately 12 calories, 1 gram of carbohydrates, and 1 gram of sugar.
Cooking Methods: You can add vanilla to a surprising amount of dishes – both savory and sweet. More traditional recipes include cookies, ice cream and plenty of decadent baked goods. But vanilla can also be used to balance out spice in savory dishes, and add depth to rich chocolate dishes, like homemade hot chocolate.
And that’s your official round-up on all-things vanilla. Now get your hands on some this tasty ingredient and put it to good use!
April 8th, 2012