Scientific Name(S): Vanilla planifolia Andr. (synonymous with V. fragrans and V. tahitensis). Family: Orchidaceae
Common Name(S): Vanilla, Bourbon vanilla, Mexican vanilla, Tahiti vanilla.
Next to saffron and cardamom, vanilla is the worlds next most expensive spice. Growers are known to "brand" their beans with pin pricks before they can be harvested, to identify the owner and prevent theft.
Substances called "vanilla flavour" don't contain vanilla at all, being synthesized from eugenol (clove oil), waste paper pulp, coal tar or 'coumarin', found in the tonka bean, whose use is forbidden in several countries. Ice cream producers are unlikely to point out that their most popular flavour derives its name from the Latin word vagina. For ancient Romans, vagina meant sheath or scabbard. The Spanish adopted the word as vaina, which developed a diminutive form, vainilla, meaning "little sheath". The Spanish made this diminutive the name of the plant because its pods resemble sheaths.
Botany: The vanilla plant is a perennial herbaceous vine that grows to heights of 25 m in the wild and can produce fruit for 36 to 40 years. It is native to tropical America and grows abundantly in Mexico. It is now cultivated throughout the tropics, including Reunion (Bourbon); Madagascar produces approximately 80% of the world's supply. The fully-grown unripe fruit (called the bean or pod) is collected and subjected to a complicated and labor-intensive fermentation process; together with the drying stage, this curing process requires from 5 to 6 months to complete. During this time, vanillin is produced by the enzymatic conversion of glucovanillin within the bean and vanillin may accumulate as white crystal on the bean surface giving it a frosted appearance.
History: Vanilla has a long history of use as a food flavoring and fragrance. Westerners were likely introduced to vanilla by the Aztec emperor Montezuma II, who prepared a vanilla-flavored chocolate drink for Hernando Cortez in the early 1500s. Although vanillin is often used in bulk food preparation, it cannot be readily substituted for the natural extract where the delicate fragrance of the pure extractive is desired. Traditional uses of vanilla have included its use as an aphrodisiac, carminative, antipyretic, and stimulant. It has been added to foods to reduce the amount of sugar needed for sweetening and has been said to curb the development of dental caries.
Uses of Vanilla
Vanilla has been used widely as a food, flavoring, and in perfume components.
Side Effects of Vanilla
Some allergenic properties have been associated with vanilla.
Toxicology: Although allergenic properties have been associated with vanilla, they do not appear to be related to the vanillin component of the plant. Rather, the dermatitis may be caused by the calcium oxalate crystal in the plant. Workers preparing vanilla have reported headache, dermatitis, and insomnia, which together have been characterized as a syndrome known as "vanillism."In a recent survey of ingredients of prescription and OTC health care products, vanilla was the second most common flavoring, superseded only by cherry, suggesting that persons with a known hypersensitivity to vanilla extract should be vigilant to the wide-spread use of this flavoring in pharmaceuticals.
Summary: Vanilla and its extract are widely used as food and perfume components. The fragrance of vanilla is the result of the combined characteristics of more than 150 volatile components, although vanillin accounts for the majority of the flavor.
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