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Why Vanilla Beans Are Absolutely Worth It

Vanilla beans (Vanilla planifolia1) are long thin pods from a variety of orchid that’s grown in a commercial scale in Madagascar, India, Indonesia, Puerto Rico and the West Indies.2,3 When opened, the pods are waxy and dark, filled with little brown specks and emit a sweet fragrance.4,5

There are three types of vanilla beans: Bourbon-Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian. Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla is a thin pod with a rich and sweet flavor, the sweetest of the three.

Mexican vanilla tastes smooth and rich, while Tahitian vanilla has the thickest and darkest-colored pod that’s aromatic but not as flavorful as the two.6 Vanilla beans have no flavor or aroma when they are first planted. Once vanilla pods are handpicked from the plant, they are dipped immediately in boiling water to stop growth, heated under the sun and wrapped to sweat at night for up to 20 days.

To develop that distinct vanilla scent and taste, pods are air-dried and fermented for four to six months, producing the vanilla beans most of us are familiar with.

The beans can be sold as they are, or made into paste or powder. Vanilla bean paste is produced by scraping out the vanilla pod and infusing the insides into a thick and sweet syrup made with sugar, water and thickener.7,8 Meanwhile, vanilla bean powder is made from dried and powdered vanilla beans, but without added sugar or alcohol.9

Health Benefits of Vanilla Beans

Most people appreciate vanilla beans only for their pleasing aroma and sweet taste, but these beans actually have health benefits. Research has linked vanillin, vanilla’s chief chemical component, to:10,11

•Lowering the body’s cholesterol levels, which is essential for people with a high risk for heart attack and stroke

•Helping alleviate arthritisgout and other inflammatory conditions

Vanilla beans have antioxidants that help prevent cell and tissue breakdown, stimulate the body’s natural regrowth and eliminate free radicals. The antioxidants also shield the immune system, decrease body stress and encourage faster recovery from injuries or illnesses.12

Small traces of calcium, manganese, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc are found in vanilla beans. In particular, potassium is a vital component of cell and body fluids, helping regulate heart rate and blood pressure levels.13

Plus, the B vitamins thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5) and pyridoxine (B6) in vanilla beans assist with enzyme synthesis, enhance nervous system function and regulate body metabolism. Vanilla beans could also be a weight loss aid by decreasing appetite and increasing your metabolism’s efficiency.14

Common Uses of Vanilla Beans

Vanilla beans have culinary uses, especially when it comes to making sweet foods15 or flavoring drinks.16 Sometimes, vanilla beans are used for cosmetic purposes, with the extract being added to hygiene and beauty products.

A combination of vanilla essential oil and carrier oil could strengthen hair and induce blood flow to the scalp, encouraging growth and production of healthier hair.17 Vanilla beans possess medicinal capabilities too. Vanilla beans’ analgesic properties assist in relieving coughs, colds, sore throats and respiratory infections, while their antibacterial properties help remove underlying body infection/s.

If you want to inhibit vomiting, diarrhea, cramps and upset stomachs and lessen gut inflammation, drinking vanilla-infused herbal tea may be helpful. In addition, a mixture of vanilla extract and warm water delivers an anesthetic effect to the throat when gargled, since it coats the said area.18

Vanilla also helps eliminate acne-causing infection/s, speeding up the skin’s healing process and decreasing scar appearance. Topical vanilla treatments also help heal burns, cuts and wounds. However, these may cause skin damage, so talk to your physician first or take an allergen test prior to using.19