Vanilla: Here is What You Should Know about Using and Growing

Vanilla is a common ingredient that is known for its fragrant flavor and aroma. From ice cream to sweet drinks, you can see vanilla being used in more ways than one. Despite its popularity, however, only a few people bother to know more about its history and background.

If you are one of the few who has interest in knowing more about vanilla, keep on reading the rest of this post. We’ll share some valuable insights with you, including the history of vanilla, culinary applications, health benefits, and most importantly, how it can be successfully grown.

Where is Vanilla from?

Vanilla is a part of the orchid family, which has more than 25,000 species. It is also known as vanilla planifolia or vanilla fragrans. It is one of the most luxurious spices in the world, joining the ranks of saffron and cardamom. With this, there is no wonder why it is grown commercially. Nonetheless, growing the plant is also possible indoors or in your garden. More about this will be discussed later on.

Vanilla is from a plant that is native in Mexico. Although it is a flowering plant, the part that is used most often is the pod, also known as the bean. It has thousands of black seeds, which are known for their potent flavor and aroma.

Vanilla Orchids

Vanilla is a Part of the Orchid Family

It is believed that the first people to have used vanilla are to Totonacs, who are from Mexico’s east coast. In the 15th century, the Totonacs were conquered by the Aztecs. In turn, the Spaniards were able to conquer the Aztecs, and this is the point where they had control of vanilla.

Before the 17th century, especially amongst the Aztecs and the Europeans, vanilla is used exclusively for adding a sweet flavor in chocolate. Hugh Morgan, who worked under Queen Elizabeth I, introduced vanilla-flavored sweetmeats, which is said to have been loved by the Queen. In the 1780s, on the other hand, Thomas Jefferson discovered vanilla as a flavoring for ice cream.

Today, vanilla is considered as the second most expensive spice in the world saffron being the first. It undergoes a production process that is labor-intensive. It is almost impossible to grow the plant at home. Another thing that makes it pricey is the fact that it is elusive. Each flower, for instance, will only remain open for 24 hours and will die after such.

What are the Types of Vanilla?

Vanilla will exhibit different characteristics especially in terms of flavor and aroma, depending on its origin. With this, the following are some of the types of vanilla that you should know:

As it is named, they are from the Bourbon islands in Madagascar. The latter is said to be the source of 75% of vanilla beans that are used around the world. This is a great choice for a all-purpose vanilla. It can deliver versatile applications, making it one of the most popular. It is known for having a sweet and creamy flavor. It is stronger compared to the other types.

Madagascar Vanilla Beans

It has a fruity and floral taste, which can be reminiscent of anise and cherry. This has the reputation for being the most expensive from all the types. Their beans tend to be wider and flatter than others. Because of the unique scent of this vanilla, it is commonly used in perfume production.
Mexico is believed to be where vanilla originated, which is why this type is also one of the preferred. They have rich and dark flavor, while also exhibiting a smoky tone. Compared to other types, it is usually thicker. It has bold flavor that makes it popular choice for baking sweet treats where vanilla is anticipated to be the dominant taste.
This is not as popular as the three other types of vanilla mentioned above, yet it deserves attention. It has an earthy aroma, which will remind you of milk chocolate. It has a high content of vanillin, which is also the one that is responsible for its rich flavor. It is the perfect choice for making desserts.

What are the Health Benefits of Vanilla?

Most of us only know the sweet flavor of vanilla but we are unaware of the fact that it can also be good for the body in more ways than one. With this, here are some of its known health benefits:

  • Protection from Cellular Damage: This health benefit is basically because of the high concentration of antioxidants, specifically vanillin. The latter will be effective in providing the protection that is needed by the cells from damages that can be caused by free radicals. Among others, this can help in maintaining the youthful glow of your skin.
  • Wound Healing: Extracts of vanilla oil are also popularly applied on wounds, believing that it can speed up healing. It is believed to have antibacterial properties, which will be effective in getting rid of infection and in lessening the likelihood that it will spread.
  • Relief from Depression: Vanilla has also gained reputation for being an effective treatment for depression and other mood problems. Its essential oils will have an uplifting effect and can significantly lessen stressors.
  • Enhances Libido: Looking for a natural and effective way to enhance your sex drive? Vanilla might have the answer. It has aphrodisiac properties and believed to be excellent in increasing testosterone levels amongst men. It also has an aroma that can enhance pleasure.
  • Digestive Disorders: If you are suffering from various digestive problems, vanilla can also be helpful. Traditionally, vanilla beans are boiled in water to treat an upset stomach. Herbal tea with vanilla infusion can also help for diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Inflammation Relief: If you have inflamed joints and if you often suffer from muscle pain. vanilla can also offer a promising alternative treatment. In one study from the European Journal of Pharmacology, the anti-inflammatory properties of vanilla have bene proven following a research conducted in rats.
  • Healthy Blood Pressure: People who have hypertension will also benefit from vanilla. One of the reasons for this is the high content of potassium, which will keep your blood pressure in check. When your blood pressure is right, your body can function better and you will be less prone to a number of health problems.
  • Respiratory Conditions: Vanilla can also provide alternative treatment to a number of respiratory problems, such as cough. When mixed with water, it can provide coating for the throat and will lessen irritation. It also has antibacterial properties that can help in getting rid of infection in the respiratory system.
  • Skin Health: This can also be excellent in the prevention of acne, among other skin problems. One of the reasons for this is the antibacterial component of vanilla. It ca even help in the reduction of acne scars.

What are the Other Uses of Vanilla?

Aside from being good for your health, vanilla also has other applications, which include the following:

  • Baking: This is perhaps one of the most popular uses of vanilla. All over the world, its extracts are used in a variety of ways, depending on how creative you can be. It is commonly added in ice creams and cakes.
  • Cooking: Aside from baking, vanilla can also be an excellent addition in various dishes, although it should be used sparingly as there is a tendency for the flavor to be too strong. Some recipes where it can be used include Parchment-Roasted Fish, Foie Gras Torchon, Lobster Bake Browned Butter, and even Black Pepper Vinaigrette.
  • Beverages: Upon entering any coffeeshop and taking a look at their menu, you will see a selection of drinks that use vanilla. Its sweet favor will perfectly complement coffee-based drinks, making it taste sweeter. Alternatively, vanilla can also be used for cocktails.
  • Natural Deodorizer: Because of the sweet and distinct aroma of vanilla, it can be an effective choice in the removal of foul odor either in the fridge or microwave. Especially when wiping the interior with vanilla extract oil, it will be easy for you to get rid of unwanted smell. Additionally, you can even add extracts in paints so that the odor will not be too strong.
  • Perfume Production: In 1927, Francois Coty introduced L’Aimant, a feminine perfume that uses vanilla as one of the main ingredients. It has been an instant hit and served as an inspiration for other perfumers to also use vanilla.
  • Bug Spray: one tablespoon of vanilla mixed with one cup of water, placed in a spray bottle, will make an excellent choice for natural bug repellant. Alternatively, you van also just wipe in on your skin and expect that mosquitoes will go away.
Vanilla Cream

Vanilla is Commonly Added in Ice Creams and Cakes

How to Successfully Grow Vanilla?

Annually, it is believed that there are up to 2,500 tons of vanilla seeds that are harvested all over the world, with most of which consumed in the United States and Europe. These beans are from plants that are grown for commercial purposes. While there are many people who have attempted to grow vanilla at home, many turned frustrated because of the fact that growing this plant is labor-intensive. In the rest of this section, we will give you a quick look of how it is planted, maintained, and harvested.

How to Effectively Plant Vanilla?

While it is difficult, it is possible for home growers to succeed in planting vanilla. However, you must be prepared as it can be physically demanding. Among others, one of the most important is to have a greenhouse. You need to build a dedicated space that can mimic the ideal environment for the plant to grow. In this case, the ideal temperature is 18 to 30 degrees Celsius. It is important to note, however, that vanilla plant grown at home will not produce beans, which are the most important and useful part of the plant.

Whether grown at home or in the wild, vanilla can get big. In fact, it can grow a vine that could be as long as 30 meters. With this, it is required that there is ample amount of space for the plant to grow.

Upon planting, it will take approximately three years before the beans will appear. One of the unique characteristics of vanilla is that its flower blooms only for 24 hours. With this, it is important to be quick and to start pollination within the first 12 hours.

When planting vanilla at home, this should be done in large containers because of the fact that it can grow big. It is important that it has well-draining soil. There should also be bright light, but the environment should not be too hot. Humidity is also needed for their survival, as well as care and maintenance.

How to Harvest Vanilla?

After pollination, it will take roughly six to nine months before the plant is ready for harvesting. While the flower is beautiful, it is not the one that is harvested. Rather, the pods are the ones that are harvested and their pods are used in different ways to take advantage of the distinct flavor and aroma of vanilla.

As they start to ripe, the beans will be harvested from the vine individually, which is just one of the reasons why it is labor-intensive. When they start to ripe, their color will also change from dark to light green. Harvest should be perfectly timed. When the beans are not yet matured, the quality will be inferior. Once they have over-ripe, on the other hand, they will split.

Upon harvesting, this does not mean that you can immediately use the beans as desired. Processing and curing will take about three months. This is the point wherein the vanilla gets most of its flavor. It is only after such point when it can be sold commercially or used as desired.

How to Successfully Maintain Vanilla?

Among others, one of the most important for growing vanilla is to provide a psot or support for the plant. As it has been earlier noted, it is a vine that can grow up to 30 feet, which makes it important to support the plant.

It is also important to note that vanilla orchids will require ample amount of watering to sustain a health growth, especially during the dry or hot months. The soil should be kept moist. If you are watering a plant that is grown at home, start from the top, making sure that the soil also get wet but not soaked. Avoid overwatering as this can encourage root rot.

Fertilizing is also important to be done regularly, especially for those that are grown for commercial purposes. An orchid fertilizer will work best. It is recommended that fertilizing is done once every two weeks during summer and spring.

Conclusion

Vanilla might be expensive, but without a doubt, it is one of the best spices in the world. It can deliver a wide array of benefits for the health. It has a sweet aroma and flavor that makes it perfect for baked treats. Unfortunately, planting vanilla is not as easy as it seems. It is often commercially-produced and growing it is challenging, which is one of the reasons why it is sold at a steep price.

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