My favourite spice, Vanilla, is an essential ingredient widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture and aroma therapy for which there is no true substitute. The flavour of real vanilla is made up of over 250 organic components, which gives it great depth and complexity, compared to only one flavor component in artificial vanilla.
The Myth on its Origin
The first to cultivate vanilla were the Totonac people, who inhabited the Mazantla Valley on the Gulf Coast of Mexico in the present-day state of Veracruz. According to Totonac mythology, the tropical vanilla orchid was born when Princess Xanat, 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 vine of the tropical orchid grew.
Its Major Producers
The majority of the world's vanilla that is produced is the Vanilla Planifolia variety, more commonly known as "Madagascar-Bourbon" vanilla, which is produced in a small region of the East African nation of Madagascar and in Indonesia.
Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron due the extensive labor required to grow the seed pods used in its manufacture. Despite the expense, it is highly valued for its flavour, which author Frederic Rosengarten, Jr. described in The Book of Spices as "pure, spicy, and delicate" and its complex floral aroma depicted as a "peculiar bouquet.
For me, the aroma of vanilla is simply, heavenly innocent, that reminds me of sweet memories of my childhood. It smells like happiness, it makes you one too.
While it is always associated as one of potent aphrodisiacs (OMG, have i been misled), vanilla has more than just benefits to our gastronomy, you must read the following article from "Organic Facts - Your Gateway to Unbiased Information" to see how we can benefit from vanilla on our health front: -
1. Anti Oxidant: This property alone can take care of most of your problems. I do not know whether you are aware of it or not, but oxidation is one of the biggest causes behind most of our troubles and diseases. 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 and burn them to death. Gradually, this result in weakening of the immunity, loss of memory, organic and nervous malfunctioning, gradual loss of vision & hearing, mental instability, macular degeneration etc. and the body becomes prone to diseases. The anti oxidant property of Vanilla 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 etc. It also repairs the damages already done to the body.
2. Aphrodisiac: A systematic administration of Vanilla Essential Oil to the patients of impotency, erectile dysfunction, frigidity, loss of libido etc. can relieve them of their problems, and it is well proven. This oil stimulates secretion of certain hormones like testosterone, estrogen etc. which help bring about normal sexual behavior and promotes arousal.
3. Anti Carcinogenic: To some extent, the anti carcinogenic property of Vanilla Oil comes from its anti oxidant 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 etc. Certain components Essential Oil of Vanilla checks growth of cancerous cells, thereby helping cure cancer.
4. Febrifuge: The vanilla oil can effectively reduce fever by fighting infections due to presence of components like Eugenol and Vanillin Hydroxybenzaldehyde in it. Being a sedative, it also reduces inflammation due to fever (Anti Phlogistic would be the right word for it) and this also contributes to reducing fever.
5. Anti Depressant: You were sitting alone, depressed. Then somebody brings you a vanilla ice cream or a vanilla flavored drink, you have that and lo! The depression is gone! You start feeling pleased, satisfied and get into mood. This is one of the biggest advantages of vanilla aroma (better if it is real vanilla, but synthetic Vanilla or artificially synthesized Vanillin Hydroxybenzaldehyde works good too) that it makes you happy. The flavor alone is so pleasingly sweet and soothing that everybody, ranging from toddlers to centurions, likes it. Vanillin Hydroxybenzaldehyde, a component of Vanilla Essential Oil, is an effective anti depressant and mood up-lifter.
6. Sedative: The Essential Oil of Vanilla soothes. It soothes all types of inflammations and hyperactivity in all the systems functioning in our body, namely, the respiratory system, circulatory system, digestive system, nervous system and the excretory system. It sedates inflammation due to fever, convulsions, anxiety, stress, hypersensitivity of allergy etc.
7. Tranquilizing: Vanilla Essential Oil helps you get a sound sleep too. This is due to the sedative and relaxing properties of this oil. It lowers blood pressure and has a sort of tranquilizing effect on the brain too, and you cannot keep you eyelids open anymore. All you see then is your bed and pillows.
8. Relaxing: This oil has a relaxing and calming effect on the brain and the nerves and gives relief from anxiety, anger, restlessness etc.
9. Other Benefits: It helps regularize menstruations (although not exactly an emenagogue) by activating certain hormones like estrogen.