Vanilla – sweet mood enhancer

Vanilla pudding, custard or vanilla crescents – many sweet treats are refined with vanilla these days. Especially at Christmas time vanilla, which is the second most expensive spice in the world after  saffron  , is in high season. However, vanilla can not only convince with its unmistakable  taste  and pleasant smell, but is also considered a true  superfood with its health-promoting effect .

What is the effect of vanilla?

The spice vanilla and in particular its main flavoring substance vanillin are said to have various positive effects on our body:

  • Vanilla is said to  have a mood-enhancing  effect and can therefore help with depressive moods or anxiety.
  • In the case of anxiety, the calming effect  of vanilla on our nerves  is also  noticeable – which is why many candles, bath additives  and body care products smell of vanilla.
  • We recommend products with a vanilla scent, but also for those with a sweet tooth, because vanilla is said to  curb the craving for sweets.
  • Vanilla is often added to perfumes and other cosmetics because vanillin is chemically very similar to human pheromones (sexual attractants). The aphrodisiac effect  that vanilla is said to have is due to this chemical similarity  .

Vanilla as a medicine?

In addition, vanilla, when applied externally, is said to have an  antiseptic effect  – that is, it is said to be able to reduce the risk of infection in wounds, for example. In addition, vanilla is also  said to have anti-inflammatory properties  . Therefore, the spice is said to   be particularly effective for fungal diseases of the skin as well as for eczema and neurodermatitis .

What is vanilla made of?

Real vanilla is made up of the following: 

  • 35 percent water
  • 25 percent sugar
  • 15 percent fat 
  • 6 percent  minerals

In addition, vanilla has a high cellulose content, which can be up to 30 percent. The proportion of the main flavoring vanillin is between three and four percent.

Main flavoring vanillin

Real vanilla is one of the most sought-after spices worldwide. Due to the complex cultivation – the vanilla blossoms often have to be pollinated by hand – and changing crop yields, however, stocks are fluctuating and real vanilla is expensive. That’s why the main flavoring substance vanillin is mainly  artificially produced these days  – real vanilla is usually only used for particularly high-quality pastries.

In order to meet the demand for vanilla, around 14,000 tons of artificial vanillin are produced every year using biotechnical methods – but real vanilla contains around 40 other components in addition to vanillin. The big advantage of artificially produced vanillin is that it can be produced relatively inexpensively. It is contained, for example, in the vanilla sugar commonly used in baking. In addition to biotechnically produced “natural” vanillin, there is also vanillin that is obtained from coniferous wood. This is referred to as “nature-identical”.

Incidentally, the so-called  “Bourbon vanilla”  comes from the Bourbon Islands. These include Comoros, Madagascar, Seychelles, Reunion Island and Mauritius. Only vanilla from these islands is allowed to bear this name.

The difference between real and artificial vanilla sugar

In contrast to the synthetically produced vanilla sugar, real vanilla sugar is made up of sugar and vanilla and can be recognized by the small black dots that form when the seeds are ground up. However, nowadays more and more products with artificial vanillin contain such black dots. These consist only of the ground shell of the pod, which hardly contains any aroma. This is intended to give the impression that real vanilla pulp was used to manufacture the product.

Vanilla: Use in the kitchen

In the kitchen, vanilla is mainly used to flavor desserts or in combination with  fruit  . Those who like to experiment when cooking can also use vanilla to flavor savory dishes such as  meat  or  vegetables  .

The pulp of the vanilla pod is usually used for seasoning in the kitchen, as it contains most of the flavorings. To get to the pulp, the  vanilla pod is  cut open lengthwise. The pulp is then scraped out of the pod together with the black seeds.

Since the pod itself also contains many flavorings, it should also continue to be used: its flavorings can be obtained, for example, by boiling the vanilla pod in  milk  or cream. The liquid can then be used for a vanilla sauce, for example.

Tip: To make   real  vanilla sugar yourself, all you need is an airtight container and a scratched-out vanilla bean. Simply put the pod in the container together with the sugar and let it steep for six to eight weeks. The more vanilla beans are added, the more flavorful the sugar will be.

Where does the vanilla come from?

The vanilla plant belongs to the  orchid family  and originally comes from Mexico. In Central and South America, it was used centuries ago to refine bitter  cocoa , but also as an aphrodisiac. The vanilla plant first came to Europe through the Spanish conquerors.

There are over 100 different types of vanilla worldwide, but only 15 types provide aromatic capsules. The most important type of vanilla is the  spice vanilla  . Although it has its origins in Mexico, today it is mainly grown on Madagascar and other islands in the Indian Ocean. Bourbon vanilla is particularly well-known   and is in great demand in Europe because of its intense aroma. It comes from the island of La Réunion, formerly known as Ile Bourbon.

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