Vanilla... is not so "vanilla" after all!
It needs no introduction... Ice cream, milkshakes, cakes, coffee, candles… There are so many things we enjoy daily that are infused with this magical flavor and smell, but did you know real vanilla is considered a ‘superfood?’
Did you also know that artificial vanilla flavoring is made with some really...unappealing ingredients? This synthetic vanilla is flavored by “natural flavorings” historically made from wood pulp waste or coal tar... It has even been made with castoreum, a.k.a. secretions from a beaver's castor glands (located conveniently near its anus), as well as pine bark, clove oil, or fermented bran. Mmmm...
Today’s artificial vanilla is most commonly made from petrochemicals. Sounds good, right?
Now, you’re probably wondering how to ensure you purchase and consume real vanilla, because, after all, most artificial vanilla ingredient lists only disclose “natural flavors”.. Whatever that might be.
Read on to learn some interesting vanilla facts…
The Vanilla Bean Fruit and Forms
Vanilla is considered one of the most expensive spices in the world because it is so labor-intensive to produce. The vanilla bean is the fruit of the only fruit-bearing orchid that exists. The vines look similar to green beans and take 3 to 4 years to grow before they develop flowers. When they do bloom, the flower only last about a day so farmers have to be very diligent about checking on them to ensure they can be hand-pollinated in the very short window of time. Additionally, each bean is ready for harvesting at different times, another reason why they must be tended to every single day.
After harvesting the ripe pods, they then have to go through an extensive curing process where they are ripened, sun-dried, and conditioned to create their distinctive deep brown color, flavor and aroma. They are then sold either as whole beans, pre-scraped or powdered, vanilla bean paste (often with added sugars), or soaked with alcohol or alcohol-free alternatives (like glycerin) to produce an extract or flavoring.
The molecular formula for organic Vanillin (the compound that makes up vanilla) is C₈H₈O₃
Propagation of Vanilla Plant
To increase the production of vanilla beans, farmers must propagate the vanilla plant in their plantation. Traditional vanilla farmers, like our suppliers, propagate the plants from stem cuttings of a mother plant that has not been allowed to flower. The best cuttings will be taken during the dry season when growth of the vines is slower. Other propagation techniques include PTC or Plant Tissue Culture that supported with biotechnology.
Believe it or not, vanilla beans have been used medicinally for centuries! The flavor and aroma are both calming and can help with sleep issues, curbing sugar intake, and even toothaches. It has even been a home remedy since the 17th century for treating anxiety and depression. Vanilla beans have fewer calories and carbs than sugar, so even besides the specific nutrients highlighted below, using vanilla as a sugar substitute can reduce high blood glucose levels in general and help you lead a more heart-healthy lifestyle.
Vanilla is also rich in antioxidants, helping rid your body of free radicals and slow aging.
Magnesium -- Vital mineral, balancing, relaxes nerves, increases “good hormones” like dopamine & serotonin. Overall it’s very calming to the nervous system and good for heart health.
Potassium -- Helps lower blood pressure, balance electrolytes, reduce stress and tension also helping with overall heart and mental health.
Calcium -- Improves bone strength and health, reduces cortisol to lower stress and even weight gain.
Manganese -- Helps mood, metabolism, and overall nervous system function.
Hormone regulation/ Aphrodisiac -- Going along with the health benefits listed above, libido is also improved with enhancing hormones like dopamine and oxytocin in the brain. Mood and overall happiness increase, leading to a healthier life of love, in general :) This is why chocolate and vanilla have been used as aphrodisiacs for centuries!
You can buy fresh vanilla beans on our site at the best value and experiment away! We source them from all over the world but currently buying the freshest from Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.
Looking for some delicious fresh vanilla bean recipes?
Want to learn how to properly use and store your fresh vanilla pods? Read our Vanilla Bean Recipes blog.
To purchase some top-quality imported vanilla beans click here.
Most of the information in this article came direct from our vanilla bean suppliers.