Vanilla is one of the world’s favorite spices and flavoring agents. It has a delightful flavor that is ideal for hot and cold beverages alike. Vanilla beans are harvested and then dried to make Vanilla Oudo, a vanilla-flavored liqueur. Vanilla is a sweet, aromatic spice derived mainly from orchids of the family Vanilla, generally obtained from pod-like leaves of the Mexican genus Orchid. The spelling Vanilla is derived from vaina, the small yellowing pod that makes the flowers of the species.
Vanilla originated in ancient Africa but is now grown in different parts of the world. In its earliest days, the bulk spice was consumed only in Italy, Spain and Sicily. Vanilla flavoring became popular in the Middle Ages, when it became a favored flavor for pastry dishes. This gave way to the popular belief that vanilla beans were prepared by roasting them over an open fire. Some even say that vanilla beans were first cultivated by accident in the Philippines and planted by the natives there.
It took about one thousand years for the cultivation of this crop to start yielding profits. Today, vanilla beans are mostly grown in Madagascar, Africa, India, Arabia and Vietnam. While Madagascar is the only location where vanilla bean caviar is produced commercially, India is known to produce excellent vanilla beans. Arab countries produce vanilla beans from the Red, Black or White varieties. They also grow African violets and cleavers.
Vanilla extract is made from the beans. While extracting the beans, care should be taken not to crush the whole lot of beans, lest the quality of flavor gets affected. The extract is usually added to other ingredients and made into candied or baked products. Vanilla extract is used as a natural sweetener, as it has a pleasant taste and aromatic nature. It can be added to ice cream, cakes, cookies, puddings, smoothies, shakes and many other sweetening products.
Vanilla Beans has been a popular medicinal plant since Roman times. Early Greek physicians recommended using it for fever, blood pressure and infections. Its curative properties were known in Roman times, which are believed to be the reason why Madagascar’s slaves were said to be healthier and happier than others in the country. In addition, research shows that vanilla beans contain high concentrations of vitamin A, vitamin B, potassium and zinc. With all these nutrients in your system, you are less likely to fall ill.
Today, Madagascar’s rich, creamy vanilla flavor is known worldwide for its therapeutic effects on health conditions. Some people even claim that eating just a few vanilla specks will give them more energy than if they eat one or two banana splits! However, experts advise that there is no evidence to support such claims. If you do decide to splurge on vanilla beans, do so in small amounts and check with your doctor whether these little bits of green goop will cause you any harm.