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Tuesday, 24 May 2011 12:00

The History of Vanilla

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Remarkably aromatic and delightfully sensuous, vanilla is an exotic spice that has been steeped in history, legend, science, and culinary enchantments since its discovery.

Vanilla was first cultivated by the Totonec people of Mexico. Then, in the 15th century, the Aztecs conquered the Totonec people and required tribute in the form of vanilla beans. Later, the Spanish conquistadors were indoctrinated into the joys of vanilla when they conquered the Aztecs; and they, in turn, introduced vanilla to Europe.

Vanilla beans are the long, greenish-yellow seedpods of the fragrant tropical vanilla orchid. Grown as a vine and hand-pollinated, vanilla orchids are harvested by hand and undergo a complicated curing process after a seven to eight month pollination. Only two species – Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitensis (Tahitian vanilla) – are cultivated for commercial use as a flavoring or fragrance, and they are grown in Madagascar, Mexico; Indonesia; and Tahiti.

The Legend of Princess Xanat
According to Totonac mythology, the vanilla orchid was born when a princess, forbidden by her father from marrying a mortal, fled to the forest with her lover. The lovers were captured and beheaded. Where their blood touched the ground, the strong vine and delicate orchid grew.

The aroma of vanilla is a sweet balsamic with calming, comforting, and balancing benefits.

When using high-quality Bourbon beans, crystals (often resembles a white fur) might be noticed after time, this is an indicator that the beans are high in natural vanillin and are of good quality; the formation of these crystals is a natural and delicious process.

How to Buy and Store Good Vanilla Beans

Premium quality vanilla beans have a rich, full aroma and are oily to the touch. They should be pliable enough to bend without breaking, and dark brown (almost black) in color.

Vanilla beans will keep indefinitely if stored properly in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, or if they are vacuum-packed. While it is important to keep vanilla beans cool to avoid mildew, they should not be refrigerated or frozen, as this causes them to harden and lose flavor.

If your vanilla beans have dried out, simply add them to warm liquid to draw out the flavor. A dry bean pod added to a mug of hot chocolate or a cup of hot tea results in a
delicious experience.

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Vanilla benefits skin care by tightening the pores and protecting against imperfections of the skin.

Health Benefits of Vanilla Essential Oil

The health benefits of vanilla essential oil can be attributed to its many virtuous properties, such as: Antioxidant, aphrodisiac, anti-carcinogenic, febrifuge, anti-depressant, sedative, tranquilizing, and relaxing.

The essential oil of vanilla is extracted by solvent extraction of a resinous substance obtained from fermented vanilla beans; from the vanilla plant with the scientific name ‘Vanilla Planifolia.’ Its main components are acetic acid, caproic acid, eugenol, furfural, isobutyric acid, and vanillin hydroxybenzaldehyde. Most of the flavors with a ‘vanilla’ tag on them are not derived from original vanilla at all; they are synthesized from hydrocarbons.

Apart from its widespread use as a flavoring agent in the food, beverages, and pharmaceutical industries, the essential oil of vanilla has also found its use in the world of medicine.

  • Antioxidant: This property alone can take care of most extrinsic and intrinsic problems. Oxidation is one of the biggest causes behind most of the troubles and diseases that plague the body. It is directly and indirectly responsible for a number of diseases caused by organic malfunctions and infections. Oxidizers, or free radicals, cause oxidation of the living cells and tissues – essentially burning them to death. Gradually, this results in the weakening of the immune system, loss of memory, organic and nervous malfunctioning, gradual loss of vision and hearing, mental instability, macular degeneration, et cetera; eventually causing the body to become prone to disease. The antioxidant property of this essential oil neutralizes these free radicals and protects the body from wears and tears; infections; and even some forms of cancer, such as those of prostrate, colon, et cetera, in addition to repairing damage already done to the body.
  • Aphrodisiac: It is well proven that a systematic administration of vanilla essential oil to patients with impotency issues, erectile dysfunction, frigidity, loss of libido, et cetera can relieve them of their problems. By stimulating the secretion of certain hormones like testosterone, estrogen, et cetera it helps bring about normal sexual behavior and
    promotes arousal.
  • Anti-carcinogenic: To some extent, the anti-carcinogenic property of vanilla oil comes from its antioxidant properties. The free radicals or oxidants do not only damage tissues, but can also cause certain type of cancers, such as those in prostrate, colon, et cetera – certain components of this oil checks the growth of cancerous cells, thereby helping
    cure cancer.
  • Febrifuge: Can effectively reduce fever by fighting infections due to presence of components like eugenol and vanillin hydroxybenzaldehyde. Being a sedative, it also reduces inflammation due to fever.
  • Anti-depressant: One of the biggest advantages of vanilla is its aroma. The aroma from real vanilla is best, but synthetic vanilla or artificially synthesized vanillin hydroxybenzaldehyde (which is an effective anti-depressant and mood up-lifter) works well, too. The flavor from vanilla alone is so pleasingly sweet and soothing that most everybody enjoys it.
  • Sedative: Soothes all types of inflammations and hyperactivity in all systems functioning in the body, namely: The respiratory, circulatory, digestive, nervous, and excretory systems. It also sedates inflammation due to fever, convulsions, anxiety, stress, hypersensitivity of allergy, et cetera.
  • Tranquilizing: Helps with sleeplessness due to its sedative and relaxing properties. By lowering blood pressure, the oil has a sort of tranquilizing effect on the brain and nerves, giving relief from anxiety, anger, restlessness, et cetera.
  • Other Benefits: It helps regularize menstruations (although not exactly an emenagogue) by activating certain hormones like estrogen.



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