Vanilla beans, also known as Vanilla planifolia, are long thin pods from a species of orchid that is planted in Indonesia, Madagascar, Puerto Rico, the West Indies, and India. Inside the pods are dark, waxy and filled with little brown specks that give off a sweet smell.
There are actually three types of vanilla beans. They are Mexican, Bourbon-Madagascar, and Tahitian vanilla beans. Mexican vanilla has a smooth and rich taste. Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla is a thin pod that contains a rich and sweet flavor and is actually the sweetest of the three vanilla bean types. While Tahitian vanilla posses the thickest and darkest-colored pod with a nice aroma but not as much as the other two.
Interestingly, vanilla beans have no flavor or fragrance when they are first planted. After vanilla pods are picked from the plant, they are dipped in boiling water to halt growth, heated under the sun and wrapped to sweat at night for a minimum of 20 days.
To get that unique vanilla flavor and taste, pods are air-dried and fermented for 4 to 6 months, giving off the vanilla beans most of us now know.
Vanilla beans can either be made into powder or paste. Vanilla bean powder is produced from dried and powdered vanilla beans, and without added alcohol and sugar. Meanwhile, vanilla bean paste is produced by scraping out the vanilla pod and putting the insides into a thick and sweet syrup made with sugar, thickener, and water.
The Common Uses of Vanilla Beans
- Vanilla beans have culinary uses, particularly as it concerns the making of sweet delicacies or flavoring drinks.
- In some cases, vanilla beans are used for making cosmetic products, with the extract being incorporated into hygiene as well as beauty products.
- When combined with the carrier oil, vanilla essential oil may be effective for strengthening the hair, stimulating blood flow to the scalp, and supporting a healthier and growing hair.
- Vanilla beans contain medicinal benefits as well. It possesses analgesic abilities that help in relieving respiratory infections, common cold, coughs, and sore throats. Vanilla beans also have antibacterial properties that help eliminate hidden body infections.
- Consuming vanilla-infused herbal tea helps to treat cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and upset stomachs as well as reduce gut inflammation. Also, when mixed with warm water, vanilla extract provides an anesthetic effect to the throat when gargled, as it coats the affected area.
- Vanilla also helps remove infections caused by acne, accelerates the skin’s healing process and reduces scar appearance. When applied topically, vanilla extracts help to heal wounds, cuts, and burns. However, it may result in skin damage. So it is advisable to check with your physician first before using vanilla beans.
The Health Benefits of Vanilla Beans
Vanilla is popular and liked for its appealing aroma and sweet flavor. However, these beans actually contain health benefits. According to some studies, vanilla beans can do the following:
- Since it contains antioxidants, vanilla beans can help inhibit tissue and cell breakdown, induce the body’s natural regrowth process, and destroy free radicals.
- The antioxidants also protect the immune system, alleviate stress and promote speedy recovery from injuries or ailments.
- It lowers cholesterol levels in the body, which is needed for people who have a high risk for heart attack and stroke.
- Vanilla beans may also aid in weight loss by reducing appetite and increasing the body’s metabolism.
- These beans alleviate gout, arthritis, as well as several other inflammatory problems.
- Vanilla beans contain little amounts of potassium, calcium, zinc, manganese, magnesium, and iron. For instance, potassium is an essential component of body fluids and cells, as it helps to regulate blood pressure levels and rate of heartbeat.
- Nutrients in vanilla beans such as B vitamins thiamin (B1), riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5) as well as pyridoxine (B6) in help promote enzyme synthesis, aid in nervous system function, and control metabolism.
How to Grow Vanilla Beans
People who are interested in growing vanilla beans in their home need to ensure that they have a tree or pole support and go for a soil with a pH level of between 6.6 to 7.5.
After the beans are planted, make sure that the soil is moist, but not too much. You can fertilize the plant fortnightly with an orchid fertilizer. The plant is then stored in a greenhouse or indoors with any other houseplants. Usually, the plants do not produce vanilla beans until after three years.
Once it is mid-spring to late summer, the matured vine bears trumpet-shaped white, yellow or green flowers. When the flowers bloom, they stay open for only one day and must be pollinated within 12 hours after opening by the Mellipona bee or long-beaked hummingbird.
Upon successful pollination, vanilla pods will grow in nine months. Typically, the beans are harvested when they grow up to 5 to 8 inches long and exhibit a light-yellow color. The pods are then dipped in boiling water, and air-dried under the sun for about three weeks until they become dark-brown beans.
For people who do not have fresh vanilla beans, 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract would suffice as a substitute. This quantity of vanilla extract amounts to an inch-long vanilla bean. However, you should know that vanilla extract is produced by adding vanilla beans in alcohol and water, reducing that rich flavor vanilla is known with.
Vanilla Bean Oil and its Uses
Vanilla bean oil also helps you get the health benefits of vanilla beans. When used topically, vanilla bean oil has the ability to heal burns, promote healthy skin, and encourage hair growth. Those who experience joint or muscle pain can use vanilla oil for carrying out massages.
People who practice aromatherapy can also incorporate vanilla bean into their infuser as it may increase feelings of calmness, as well as ease nausea. In fact, vanilla bean oil also contains antioxidant and antispasmodic properties that heal wounds, and treat fevers and stomach problems.
However, it is important to note that cheap vanilla oils are usually heavily processed and infused with synthetic materials, though they are labeled “pure vanilla oil.” As a matter of fact, vanilla oil extracts such as vanilla oleoresin, vanilla absolute, and vanilla carbon dioxide use solvents to extract the oil. Making your own vanilla oil infusion is still your best bet.
Always consult a medical doctor for an allergen test before using vanilla oil. And if you suffer nausea or headaches due to the smell of the oil, it is advisable to stop using it. While there are no reports of major side effects, a prolonged exposure to the smell may be bad for the nervous system.