You might probably have heard less about the health benefits of vanilla, but every time you eat a baked product such as cake, tea, fruit juice or ice-cream, you at least get in contact with its aroma. However, you might want to go beyond that flavor and start buying vanilla when you visit the market or grocery shop because of the health benefits associated with it.
Protection against free radicals
Researchers and health experts say that vanilla contains useful antioxidants that protect the body against harmful compounds such as toxins and free radicals usually regarded as damaging substances.
Isaac Bikorimana, a nutritionist at Kibagabaga Hospital, says people should embrace foods that contain antioxidants because they are vital nutrients that the body needs regularly.
He explains that during the break down of fats, free radicals are liberated. However, it is only in the presence of these antioxidants that the free radicals or toxins are neutralized to prevent damage to body cells and tissues.
“Failure to consume foods such as vanilla that contains some proportions of antioxidants may result into free radicals oxidizing body cells, a reaction that promotes cancerous growth,” Bikorimana says.
Other experts also suggest that the health benefits of vanilla are endless since nutrients such as vanillic acid and vanillin give vanilla its characteristic properties to serve among many purposes as an aphrodisiac.
Improving sexual desire
Joseph Mbabazi, a pediatric nutritionist, argues that for long, vanilla has been applied only as a major flavoring in baked food products simply because its contents have the capacity to produce a desirable fragrance.
He adds, however, that in addition to this, intake of vanilla products is likely to assist much more in stimulating sexual desire within individuals of lower sexual appetite.
“Regular intake of vanilla products helps to maintain a functional reproductive system hence people should try to include this in most of their diets,” Mbabazi advises.
Food supplements, lowering blood cholesterol
Studies published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry revealed that vanilla extract contains between 26 per cent to 90 per cent of antioxidant which is indicative that there is potential for use as a health supplement and food preservative.
However similar research published in the “Indian Journal of experimental Biology” shows those nutrients play a pivotal role in lowering blood cholesterol and should be regular for individuals with heart related disorders.
Although the study conducted for 45 days used much higher quantities of vanillin than what is usually found in a single serving of vanilla extract, there were significant results in lowering total blood cholesterol levels in rats that were fed a high fat diet.
Essential preservatives and pharmaceuticals
“Vanilla should not only be used for purposes of baking. It is high time people considered the fact that the vanilla extract contains important antioxidants for promoting health and can add preservative effect in certain foods,” Mbabazi adds.
He goes ahead to mention that the antioxidants also serve as natural preservatives and they are responsible for keeping vanilla itself long without going bad even without undertaking any special treatment after dehydration.
Mbabazi also adds that vanilla oil extracted from Vanilla planifolia has a number of applications in both pharmaceutical and chemical industries. It is considered an essential herb for relieving pain.
“Through distilling raw vanilla sticks and condenses the fluid, one can get a high volatile compound that can be used as a perfume or used to make drugs,” Mbabazi adds.
Evolution of Vanilla
Vanilla is indigenous to Central America and Mexico but is widely grown in the subtropics of Asia, Northern Europe and Canada although Madagascar is the largest producer in Africa.
The word “vanilla” comes from the Spanish word “vainilla,” which means little black pod.
Scientifically vanilla products are derived from Vanilla planifolia, a native species of the Orchidaceae family, with large climbing vines and clusters of yellow-green flowers that turn into fragrant brown-colored pods after harvesting.