D.Despite being one of the * most popular * flavors of all time, vanilla is known for being plain or bland. Let’s get one thing straight right away: Vanilla is bursting with natural flavor. The combination of floral and caramel notes is so pronounced that it consumes the senses with a touch. Its versatile taste goes perfectly with sweet, savory and salty dishes – reducing it to a “meh” ice cream taste is a big mistake that we would like to clear up.
Vanilla’s many benefits go beyond taste – it’s also packed with health benefits. But before we get into that, it helps to know what exactly vanilla is. Vanilla is a flowering plant that belongs to the orchid family. Originally native to Central and South America, it was first cultivated by the Aztecs. They originally combined it with cocoa and drank the rich mixture as a sweet drink. When the Europeans discovered vanilla, it became a hot commodity – even more than chocolate. Europeans used vanilla to make ice cream and other sweet treats, much like they are used today.
Vanilla is not easy to obtain and therefore expensive; In fact, it is the second most expensive spice in the world. Vanilla flowers are only open for 24 hours and if they are not pollinated by bees or hummingbirds during that time, they will die. If pollination is successful, however, fruit-containing pods, also called vanilla pods, are formed. The vanilla pods are picked, soaked in water and left in the sun to dry.
There is a difference between vanilla pods and vanilla extract, also known as the liquid in a small brown bottle that is likely in your pantry right now. Vanilla extract is made by soaking the ground vanilla pods in alcohol and water. (You can also buy non-alcoholic vanilla extract that uses glycerin, a clear vegetable oil, instead.) The closer you get to consuming vanilla straight from its pods – in other words, the less processed it is – the more of its health benefits you will get consume.
Now that you’ve been briefed on the history of vanilla, let’s get to the benefits.
5 Vanilla Benefits, According to a Registered Dietitian
As mentioned earlier, vanilla pods and liquid vanilla extract commonly used in baking aren’t exactly the same. Vanilla extract contains vanilla, which means the benefits are extended to the extract as well. However, the more vanilla that is processed, the less pronounced the benefits. Additionally, some vanilla extract manufacturers use heat as part of the extraction process, which reduces some of the nutritional value. Because of this, cold-pressed vanilla extract has more health benefits. The following benefits are related to pure, natural vanilla.
1. It can positively affect your mood.
The smell of vanilla alone is beneficial. A mouse study showed that smelling vanilla can help relieve depression and anxiety. “That’s interesting. Vanillin, a phenolic component of vanilla, has been shown to have anti-anxiety effects in animal studies,” says registered nutritionist Malena Perdomo, RD.
Another study extends this connection to humans. When vanilla was given to smell, the most common feelings it evoked were happiness, followed by relaxation. Perdomo says the researchers don’t seem to know yet why exactly vanilla is linked to a happy and relaxed feeling, but the link seems to be there.
2. Vanilla is anti-inflammatory.
Perdomo points out that vanilla is full-fledged antioxidants that benefit the entire body. “Antioxidants have many beneficial effects as they are related to anti-inflammatory effects in our bodies,” she says. “Our bodies use antioxidants to protect cells from free radicals that can cause tissue damage.” This means that adding a touch of vanilla to your morning coffee will increase the amount of antioxidants in your cup.
3. It is also antimicrobial.
Scientific research shows that vanilla is also antimicrobial, which means that it helps kill harmful bacteria and stop them from growing. In a scientific study, vanilla helped protect against the growth of E. coli. While this doesn’t mean you should add vanilla to anything you fear could lead to food poisoning, it is an interesting compound worth mentioning and is one reason Perdomo says it that vanilla is often used as a natural food preservative.
4. Vanilla could be good for your gut.
There is some data to suggest that vanilla may play a role in supporting the gut. “An animal study showed that vanillin – one of the components of vanilla – improves the gut microbiota of obese mice fed a high-fat diet,” says Perdomo. “In particular, it did so by increasing the production of short chain fatty acids, which are beneficial for the gut. It also reduced other bacteria associated with obesity and others known to be inflammatory.” This is another connection that needs more research in humans, but an interesting connection to be aware of.
5. It supports brain health.
Do you remember how rich vanilla is in antioxidants? This is good news for your brain, too. Scientific studies show that vanilla is neuroprotective and helps reduce damage to brain cells.
There is a caveat to all of the benefits of vanilla highlighted here, and this is how vanilla is used. Vanilla is a common ingredient in baked goods and desserts, and these foods often contain added sugar. Added sugar is nutrient-depleted and can be harmful to health. The good news is that because vanilla is so flavorful, you really don’t need to add any sugar to make it taste great. Below are some recipe ideas that use vanilla in ways that amplify, rather than hinder, its health benefits.
5 ways to cook with vanilla
1. Vanilla birthday cake
This dairy-free, gluten-free birthday cake recipe proves that you need absolutely no sugar to bake a delicious birthday cake. The vanilla is naturally sweet, along with honey, which is used as a natural alternative to white sugar.
2. Lucky balls
As the vanilla benefits above pointed out, vanilla can have a positive effect on mood. There is another herb, mucuna, that has this effect and the Bliss Balls recipe in the video above combines its powers. Also in this recipe are oats and cashew nuts, which add a lot of fiber and protein.
3. Cinnamon Vanilla Chai Tea
Curling up with a hot vanilla chai tea is one way to really take advantage of its relaxing benefits. This recipe includes other herbs that have their own health benefits: cinnamon, star anise, cardamom, cloves, ginger, and peppercorns. In combination, its multi-layered taste is warming and sweet.
Get the Recipe: Cinnamon Vanilla Chai Tea
4. Chamomile vanilla ice cream
Incorporation into ice cream is a classic use for vanilla. Here it is paired with chamomile, another herb that is heavily associated with relaxation. Talk about the perfect pre-bedtime snack!
5. Vanilla chia pudding
Would you like to start your day with vanilla instead of ending it this way? (Or hey, why not both.) Bookmark this recipe for breakfast. It shows how to make a classic vanilla chia pudding with just four ingredients. The chia seeds are a great source of fiber. Add nuts to increase protein in this simple meal.
Get the Recipe: Vanilla Chia Pudding
As you can see, there are many ways to use vanilla in delicious ways without adding sugar to the mixture few Your options. Regular consumption of vanilla affects your health in many ways. Just be sure to use pure vanilla for maximum benefit, or better yet, use it straight from the pods. With that in mind, add a sweet note to your meals – in more ways than one.
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