Vanilla planifolia is a tropical orchid, which is a native of Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. It is also known as the Flat-leaved Vanilla. Vanilla planifolia is the only member of the orchid family that is grown and harvested on an industrial scale, most notably in Mexico, Madagascar, and Tahiti. The pods of the vanilla planifolia are harvested and dried. They are then used to produce natural vanilla flavoring and scent.
The culinary and medicinal benefits of vanilla planifolia have been known for centuries. The Aztec people, who lived in Mexico from the 13th to the 16th centuries, are known to have used vanilla planifolia to produce vanilla flavoring and as an aphrodisiac.
Vanilla planifolia is a vine, which supports itself on fleshy roots. The leaves are flat and dark green in color. The flowers of the vanilla planifolia are yellow. The flowers open in the morning and close in the evening. They last for only one day. During the time that the flower is open, pollination must take place. If pollination does not occur, the flower will fall from the vine within 24 hours. The flower is self-pollinating, but in a natural environment less than 1% of vanilla planifolia flowers will pollinate. When vanilla planifolia is grown commercially, pollination is carried out manually. This makes the cultivation of vanilla planifolia both labor-intensive and expensive.
The fruit of the vanilla planifolia looks like long green beans, which are ready for harvest after approximately 5 months. The fruit is known as pods and grows to around 7 or 8 inches long. After they are harvested, the pods of the vanilla planifolia are dried and fermented. At this point the pods turn brown. Inside the pods are small, black vanilla seeds. Vanilla extract is derived from the cured pods. The process used to dry the pods and produce the natural vanilla extract is complicated and lengthy. As a result, vanilla pods are an expensive commodity.
The scent of vanilla is used in a variety of skin care products, toiletries, and fragrances.
Synthetic vanilla can be made from lignin, a complex chemical compound found in wood pulp. This is a cheaper method of producing vanilla extract. Synthetic vanilla is generally regarded as inferior to natural vanilla. In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has produced regulations determining the concentration of vanilla beans required for vanilla extract to be described as pure. In order to comply with the FDA requirements, pure vanilla extract must have at least 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon. In addition, the solution must contain no more than 1% alcohol.
The scent of vanilla is used in a variety of skin care products, toiletries, and fragrances. To be certain that products contain natural vanilla, look out for the inclusion of vanilla planifolia on the list of ingredients.
Vanilla essential oil is used in aromatherapy.
Vanilla essential oil is used in aromatherapy. Vanilla essential oil is helpful in clarifying and clearing the mind, balancing the emotions, and relaxing the body. Vanilla essential oil is also considered to be an aphrodisiac as the scent of vanilla has been shown to stimulate sexual arousal. Vanilla essential oil is helpful for those who are dieting as it can be used to stave off hunger pangs. Because calorie-free vanilla can also be used as a natural sweetener in place of sugar, its taste and scent make it truly a diet-friendly ingredient.
The scent of vanilla can be used to alleviate the symptoms of claustrophobia. At the Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York, a study revealed that vanilla scent relaxed patients undergoing a Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan. An MRI scan requires the patient to lie in a long, narrow tunnel for around an hour at a time. Patients reported less anxiety during the procedure when the vanilla scent was pumped in to the room.
Vanilla extract has a natural antibacterial action when it is added to food. It helps to preserve the food by inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria. Vanilla appears to be most useful as an antibacterial agent in food with a low PH value.
Vanilla is an antioxidant, which enables it to neutralize free radicals. In a laboratory setting, vanilla has been shown to have cancer-treating properties. In a small scientific study, vanilla bean extracts have been found to reduce the number of cancer-causing cells in mice.