Vanilla, the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron, came to India in 1850. It is an orchid plant and the subspecies that is grown extensively in India is Vanilla planifolia or Bourbon vanilla. The other two subspecies are Vanilla tahitensis and Vanilla pompon. All three have  evolved from a single species found in Mesoamerica. Bourbon vanilla beans have a strong aroma and are long, slender and have a thick oily skin.

Three major species of vanilla currently are grown globally, all of which derive from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern-day Mexico.

The beans are harvested six to nine months after pollination takes place. The beans that change from being a non-aromatic, dark green to a light green with a hint of yellow, can be easily detached once they are ripe. They are then harvested one by one and so it is a labour intensive process.

Vanilla is a flavor derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, primarily from the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla (V. planifolia).

Nutrition Facts
Vanilla Extract
Amount Per 100 gm
Calories 288

Total Fat                               0.1 g
Cholesterol                          0 mg
Sodium                                9 mg
Potassium                       148 mg
Total Carbohydrate             13 g
Sugar                                      13 g
Protein                                  0.1 g

Vitamin A                               0%
Vitamin C                               0%
Calcium                                   1%
Iron                                         0%
Vitamin D                              0%
Vitamin B-6                          0%
Vitamin B-12                        0%
Magnesium                           3%

Of all the species, Vanilla planifolia has the most health benefits:

Vanilla infused herbal tea can help in digestion. Water boiled with vanilla beans gives relief in case of nausea or stomach problems. Even the aroma of vanilla can quell nausea.

Vanillin found in vanilla beans has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used to sooth acne.

Its antioxidant property may slow down aging of the skin as they fight free radicals.

Traditional home remedies employ vanilla burn for injuries. However, it is safer to use diluted vanilla extract or essential oil on the skin because concentrated application may have an adverse reaction.

Vanilla used in cough syrups has mild anaesthetic properties that may provide relief from a sore throat or headache.

Toothache and infections can be fought with vanilla.

Vanilla also has anti-carcinogenic qualities because the antioxidants in vanillin fight cancer promoting free radicals.

It can be used as a mild sedative and anti-depressant. It is used extensively in aromatherapy for its calming ability.

Twelve beans of vanilla mixed in a bath along with spearmint, ginger, echinacea, peppermint or cinnamon will help relieve aches and pains.

Respiratory congestion can be reduced with the aroma of vanilla opening up the airways.

Small quantities of B-complex vitamins in vanilla enable enzyme synthesis, the functioning of the central nervous system and the regulation of body metabolism.

Vanilla has also been touted as a natural aphrodisiac.


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