The vanilla plant is originally cultivated in Mexico, by the ” Totonaca” indigenous tribe , who were the pioneers in its use before the arrival of the Spanish.
This tribe appreciated vanilla as one of the most important plants in its gastronomy, which favored its expansion towards other tribes; as well as it had a great cultural connotation and as part of commercial exchanges.
For its collection in the fields of the Totonacs, they had to ask permission from the king of Mount Ki Mi Ekolo or Quihuipolo.
Over the years, it has been consolidated thanks to its characteristics, uses and gastronomic and medicinal properties.
What is vanilla?
Vanilla is the type of plant belonging to orchids, which has a fruit from which a pod emerges (name given by the Spaniards for its resemblance to the pod of a sword), of a black color and shaped like an elongated capsule. .
There are different species of this plant, with large flowers and stems, and capsule-shaped fruits, the cultivation and commercialization of which is of a decorative nature.
Origin of vanilla
Vanilla has its origin in Central America, specifically Mexico, Madagascar, Puerto Rico, Reunion (French island of the Mascarene archipelago), where the Bourbon type of vanilla is produced.
Tahiti produces vanilla tahitensis, while Mauritius, Uganda, Java and Comoros are potential vanilla producers.
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History of vanilla
In Aztec times, vanilla was called tlilxóchitl , which meant “black flower”, referring to the color that the fruit had after being cured, and it was used to savor xocoatl, a chocolate drink made from cocoa.
It is said that the Aztec king Moctezuma (year 1520), served this drink to Hernán Cortes, who in turn, took both the cocoa and the vanilla pods to Europe, causing great acceptance. But it was not until 1602 that Elizabeth I’s apothecary of England, Hugh Morgan, recommended its use to flavor other products; except cigars, perfumes and liquors (18th century).
However, the Totonacas (an indigenous tribe of the Mexican state of Veracruz) before the Aztecs, were the ones who planted, cultivated and used vanilla. In the first half of the 19th century, the cultivation of this plant was established in Europe, to later be transferred to the Indico islands; but it did not give the expected results because there was not a good natural pollination due to the absence of Melipona- type bees . Due to this, Mexico had a monopoly on the cultivation and production of the vanilla plant of this species, between the 16th and 14th centuries.
In 1841, a former French slave (Reunion Island) named Edmon Albius, improved a manual procedure to pollinate vanilla flowers and obtain the pods, facilitating its cultivation outside of Mexico.
Currently, the main producers of the vanilla plant are Madagascar (the world’s largest producer), Camores and the islands of Reunion.
Characteristics of vanilla
Vanilla comes from a wild orchid, which occurs in the tropics; with stems in the form of vines, it reaches an approximate height of 15 meters.
- Leaves: located on each side of the stem, flexible and hard in texture, dark green, flat and end in the shape of a point, they have a liquid inside that can be irritating and cause burns or burning of the skin, they can measure 55 centimeters.
- Flowers: they are of the inflorescence type, which are born in the axils of the leaves, grouped in the form of a bouquet of eight or ten flowers, up to 100, but not exceeding twenty; They tend to be very attractive and showy, emanating a sweet fragrance, each flower has 6 petals, ranging in color from white, green, yellow, preserving the appearance of an orchid.
These flowers open at dawn, and with sunset, they close, wither pollinated or not, in most species, they take advantage of the scaly leaves in the photosynthesis process.
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Scientific name of vanilla
Vanilla is known by the name of ” Vanilla Planifolia “, which refers to the fruit of the same plant, shaped like a small pod or “vanilla”, and “Planifolia” which is the flat shape of the leaves; with Vanilla tahitiensis and Vanilla pompona, they are considered the most widely used species in the manufacture of vanilla flavoring.
Currently, there are candies, ice creams, chocolates and soft drinks with a vanilla aroma or flavor.
Chemical composition of vanilla
Among the chemical components of vanilla, there is vanillin, a substance responsible for giving that characteristic aroma, which can be found on the surface of the dry and ripe pod, with a transparent crystalline appearance; it also has other aldehyde components such as phenols, eugenol, thymol, isoeugenol, anethole, coumarin.
At present, they have managed to artificially manufacture this substance, using it in food, cosmetics, medicine, giving the same fragrance of vanilla, but at a cheaper price.
Active ingredient of vanilla
Among the active principles that vanilla has are the heterosides: Vanillósido or glucovanilla (which hydrolyze into glucose and vanillin), glucovanyl alcohol (hydrolyzable into glucose and vanillic alcohol, by oxidation it becomes vanillic aldehyde or vanillin ); piperonal, anasic alcohol, anisaldehyde, p-hydroxybenzoic acid.
In relation to the cultivation of vanilla, it is not easy, as it is a climbing plant it needs the support of other plants to sustain itself, its roots can reach the top of the support tree, approximately the height of an adult, to be able to flourish and help the pollination and harvest process.
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For the vanilla harvesting process, for the pods to grow, a period of 7 to 9 months must pass; These pods are long and green, when they measure 30 cm and turn yellow, it can be said that they are ripe and ready to be harvested.
The time in which this process will be carried out must be taken into account, taking into account that if it is before time the aromatic properties have not been fully developed, and its fragrance will be more woody; On the other hand, if it is exceeded in maturation, the pod can suffer from fractures and are more exposed to bacteria, fungi or mold.
Regarding the chemical level, the exact harvest time is important, because its aroma, produced by the glucovanillin and beta-glucosidase compounds, must be adequate and will depend clearly on the stage of maturation, the more mature it is it will be higher in glucosidase content, and in turn it will favor the curing process to obtain a greater vanillin compound.
The most important process in the cultivation of vanilla is curing, because its flavor will depend on it, therefore it is composed of these stages:
- Wilting : once the fruits have been harvested, they are left to wilt in order to stop their development and in turn, help in the action of enzymes for the production of their appreciated aroma and flavor; the pods begin to change to a brown tone very characteristic of vanilla for consumption.
- Sweating : the exposure temperature of the vanilla beans must be very high, so that the action of the enzymatic components is effective, helps to reduce fermentation and allows better dehydration. At the end of this stage, a quick drying must be carried out to avoid harmful fermentation, because this is where the characteristic aromatic notes of vanilla are generated and this is where the pods turn to a dark chocolate color.
- Drying : in this stage, the pods are spread on the ground, allowing them to dry at room temperature, in an open space so that the air can circulate; the duration of drying takes until the pods lose a certain amount of their initial weight. Drying must be natural because you can run the risk of losing quality in the aroma.
- Conditioning : when the ainas are dry, they are grouped and deposited in closed boxes for approximately three months, until the desired flavor and aroma of vanilla is obtained.
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Uses of vanilla
Among the uses that can be attributed to vanilla, are:
In gastronomy, as an ingredient in sweets, ice cream, cakes, due to its exotic flavor it repounds flavors of other foods, in the mixture with chocolate, fruits and recipes that include milk, it is part of the ingredients of the famous Coca-Cola drink.
In aromatherapy and cosmetics, for the manufacture of essences, perfumes, candles, soaps, personal care items and for the hair.
In the medicinal area, it acts as an anti-inflammatory, febrifuge, emmenagogue, relaxant, analgesic, antibacterial, muscle pain, migraines.
Benefits of vanilla
- Increase muscle energy
- Lowers blood pressure
- It has anti-inflammatory properties.
- Helps against rheumatism, allergies, arthritis.
- When used topically, it helps to hydrate the skin and hair, preventing premature aging.
- It helps against impotence, lack of libido, erectile dysfunction, frigidity, which is why it is said to be an aphrodisiac because it activates the hormones testosterone and estrogens.
- Emenagogue, in addition to accelerating labor because it activates estrogen hormones.
- It acts as a febrifuge.
- Relieves stomach aches, even consuming vanilla ice cream helps eliminate heartburn.
- Helps strengthen the brain.
- Relieves poisonous animal bites.
- Due to its antioxidant properties, it helps fight free radicals.
- It acts as an antidepressant, controls anxiety and irritability, sadness, melancholy.
- Sedative, facilitates sleep.
- Stimulates weight loss.
- It is used to combat hyperactivity.
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How is vanilla oil extracted?
Vanilla oil comes from a maceration process, which allows the aromatic essence of the plant to be extracted.
This oil can be used in the cosmetic area to make lotions, creams or balms, as well as in perfumery.
Vanilla oil ingredients
To prepare vanilla oil you need the following:
- Jojoba oil
- A vanilla bean
- An opaque colored glass container to avoid direct light rays.
The jojoba oil is placed in the container and the vanilla beans are chopped into pieces and placed to marinate in the oil for approximately a month to a month and a half, in a dry and cool place, after that time has elapsed, strain and is used for what is required.
Pregnancy and vanilla
Consuming vanilla extract is safe during pregnancy, in yogurt or in a serving of bread; it is considered a favorable source of power; There is no known toxicity level in this regard, but its consumption should not be exceeded.
Can it be used while breastfeeding? Why?
Although some type of toxicity or contraindication to the use of vanilla has not been determined, consumption during the lactation period could generate, at an early age, the inclination of the child to consume sweets that are not very favorable for their development, because it sets a pattern in the brain for the consumption of sweets from small.
In some nutritional recommendations that were made in 1981, the use of including any type of flavors to the milk of newborns was not recommended, however, in the formulas prepared for children older than one year, it was included among its flavors, the vanilla. The use of this flavor combined with chocolate is counterproductive because it predisposes children to the desire to eat sweets.
Vanilla and allergies
Vanilla can be allergic to the person who has a reaction to any of the components, who are more vulnerable to suffer from this are women, because not only the components of vanilla are included in the food, but also in cosmetics, perfumes , body creams, makeup, among others.
Vanilla for Babies How does it benefit them?
Studies have been conducted on the effect of vanilla extract in relieving teething pain in babies; acts as a painkiller in the case of pain in the gums or teeth, as well as relieve stomach pain.
According to an article published in 2009 by the journal Pediatrics in Review, it indicates that the effectiveness of vanilla is not scientifically proven on these conditions.
Vanilla and aromatherapy
Vanilla has as a highlighting characteristic is its relaxing and calming effect that provides its aroma, this thanks to its heliotropin or piperonal content, because it enters the body through the respiratory system and reaches the brain directly, causing a state of proven relaxation.
Different studies were carried out on the use of the pod in situations of stress or anxiety that the person presents, for example, in France, the University of Strasbourg tried to place a few drops of vanilla oil under the pillow of about 15 children who suffered from apnea sleep, they observed respiration for 3 days and these events were found to have decreased by 36%.
In the mid-90s, in New York, specifically at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, some patients were exposed to 5 different fragrances, including vanilla, during the MRI examination, this in order to determine the effect on anxiety and stress produced by this situation, and it was established that all patients reduced these episodes by 63% compared to those who were not exposed to any fragrance.
Due to its aphrodisiac properties, vanilla can be considered a great ally in treatments to revive emotions and sensations in the sensual area.
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Cosmetic uses of vanilla
Thanks to the beneficial properties that vanilla provides, the following cosmetic uses have been attributed to it:
- Helps prevent premature aging, due to its antioxidant properties.
- Due to its antibacterial properties, it acts against acne, favoring a better cleaning of the skin against pimples and pimples.
- The use of vanilla extract acts as a soothing in case of skin burns.
Medicinal uses of vanilla
In relation to the medicinal uses that can be given to vanilla are:
- Thanks to its components such as benzaldehyde, coumarins, limonene and eugenol, it acts as a great painkiller in cases of anxiety, insomnia, depression and stress.
- It is analgesic, because it calms muscle aches, headaches, as well as indigestion or stomach pains.
- Due to its febrifuge properties (benzoic and salicylic acid), it helps in treatments against fever.
- It acts as an antirheumatic in treatments for fibromyalgia or any other rheumatic disease, due to its relaxing effect due to its anisic acid content.
- Strengthens the digestive system (composition of catechins), in addition to acting as a laxative and stimulant in the production of bile, relieving symptoms of gastritis, biliary insufficiency.
- It works as an antibacterial and antiseptic, it is used in treatments against halitosis and other conditions of this type, thanks to its components such as tannins, eugenol, vanillinic acid, malco and benzoic.
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It is used for high blood pressure
Studies have been carried out, but in animals, on the effect of vanilla on arterial hypertension, determining that a high consumption of vanillin reduces high blood pressure, as well as controls cholesterol, preventing heart disease and arteriosclerosis.
Vanilla oil contains small amounts of potassium, magnesium, iron, zinc, calcium, manganese which are components that help cellular fluids, which intervene in better heart function and blood pressure.
Vanilla in gastronomy
Vanilla is considered one of the most expensive spices, after saffron, and it is a sophisticated ingredient in gastronomy, both for sweet and savory foods, thanks to its flavor and aroma.
It combines perfectly with sweet dishes such as pudding, cakes, creams, cakes, cookies, ice cream, and to flavor drinks, combined with chocolate; but sometimes, it is an additive that imitates vanilla that can be more expensive and superficial, without exceeding its original flavor.
It can be mixed with garlic, coriander, chili, cardamom, fennel, cloves, pepper, star anise, ginger, mint and cinnamon, for its penetrating flavor, a small dose is enough to enjoy its flavor.
Some recipes in which vanilla is used include:
- Vanilla and chocolate cookies.
- Vanilla biscuit.
- Vanilla jam.
- Jojoto cakes
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Contraindications and risks of vanilla
Vanilla is considered a safe spice, in therapeutic use, as a food.
However, in relation to vanilla essential oil, which should not be consumed by pregnant women because it could cause adverse effects; while breastfeeding or by children under 12 years of age, may cause stomach irritation.
Most essential oils in their pure state, such as vanilla, can be neurotoxic.
It is contraindicated in patients with liver and neurological problems (Parkinson’s disease), epileptics, irritable bowel syndrome or chronic gastritis.
May cause allergic reaction in sensitive skin.
It is not proven that vanilla is toxic, however, growers tend to suffer from headaches, skin rashes, this being the greatest risk they are exposed to by direct contact with the pod; however, it is not a conditioning factor and this condition can be treated.
Advantages and disadvantages of using vanilla
As an advantage of the use of vanilla, the properties and benefits it brings to health can be indicated, as well as in aromatherapy, helping to control moments of anxiety, stress, depression, providing moments of calm and relaxation.
It is a great ally, very sophisticated in gastronomy, for the preparation of dishes, especially sweets.
In relation to the disadvantages, the direct use of vanilla essential oil can be neurotoxic, or cause irritability in sensitive skin.
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Vanilla Nutrition Facts
Next, nutritional information provided by vanilla is detailed, for every 100 grams:
- Vitamin C 0 mg.
- Vitamin B3 0.43 mg.
- Vitamin B12 0 ug.
- Vitamin A 0 ug.
- Sodium 9 mg.
- Proteins 0.06 g.
- Iron 0.12 mg.
- Fat 0.06 g.
- Fiber 0 g.
- Cholesterol 0 mg.
- Carbohydrates 12.65 g.
- Calories 51.40 kcal.
- Calcium 11 mg.
- Sugars 12.65 g.
For every 100 grams of vanilla, it provides 0.6u (5) of sugar.
- Common Name: Vanilla
- Scientific name: Vanilla Planifolia
- Active principles: heterosides: Vanillósido or glucovanilla (which hydrolyze in glucose and vanillin), glucovanyl alcohol (hydrolyzable in glucose and vanillic alcohol, by oxidation it becomes vanillic aldehyde or vanillin); piperonal, anasic alcohol, anisaldehyde, p-hydroxybenzoic acid .
- Properties: Digestive, relaxing, antibacterial, febrifuge, emmenagogue, anticancer, antioxidant, analgesic, prevents acne, anti-inflammatory, antibiotic.
- Uses: Therapeutic, gastronomic, medicinal, aromatherapy, cosmetic.
- Recommended dose: 0.5 – 1 g powder; infusion of 2 to 3 drops, three to five times a day.
- Contraindications: the use of vanilla oil is not recommended in children under 12 years of age, pregnant or lactating women; patients with kidney diagnoses, Parkinson’s, gastritis, irritable bowel syndrome.
- Conservation: In a sealed glass container, in a cool place.
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Kathie Sand always saw the world of beauty as the terrain on which to build her professional career, a goal that was clear to her when she was only 15 years old. Her great concern to expand knowledge led her to settle in Paris where she studied hand in hand with the best beauty professionals and with the most advanced techniques for skin care.