The Lure of Vanilla

dryvanillaIt’s in our food, beverages, chocolate, perfume, soaps, and is even known to lure not only humans but deers as well. Last but most certainly not least vanilla helps to lift spirits, calms you down, and can even help you lose weight!
Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids in the genus Vanilla native to Mexico. The name “vanilla” comes from the Spanish word “vainilla”, meaning “little pod”. Traditionally, Mayans used vanilla to flavor chocolate drink centuries before Spanish first arrived in Mexico in 1520. This highly prized bean is native to tropical rain forest of Central America and more recently spread to other tropical-regions by Spanish explorers. Being an avid fan and maybe slightly obsessed with using vanilla in many of our smoothie recipes, I was excited to learn a thing or two about the origins of vanilla and it’s associated, if any, health benefits. Along with the history, lure, and fun facts I found about this somewhat scandalous bean I was pleasantly surprised about its associated health benefits. Also, we’ve included a spring-time nod to vanilla and rhubarb with a delicious new smoothie recipe. Enjoy!
Health Benefits of Vanilla
  • Vanilla’s anti-carcinogenic property primarily comes from the chemical compound vanillin, a polyphenol known to be a powerful antioxidant. The essential oil of vanilla has been shown to reduce free radicals thought to promote the development of inflammation and certain cancers. Other compounds in pure vanilla extract that display mild antioxidant or anti-inflammatory properties include eugenol, caproic acid, phenol ether, carbonyl compounds, esters, lactones and vitispiranes.
  • Vanilla as a low calorie sweetener. Pure vanilla bean extract isn’t very sweet, especially compared to artificial and refined sugars, but its unique flavor can enhance the taste of baked goods, smoothies and coffee and reduce the need for additional sweeteners. As such, vanilla extract can be considered a lower calorie sugar substitute.450px-Vanilla_beans
  • The natural extract contains many B vitamins such as B-1, B-2, B-3, B-5 and B-6. B vitamins are important for metabolism and energy production, as well as the synthesis of enzymes.
  • Real vanilla bean extract also contains many minerals in trace amounts such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, iron and zinc. These minerals are important for strong bones and teeth, but are also needed for normal muscle tone and fluid distribution.
  • Vanilla as a mood enhancer: Vanilla extract has a long history of use in the Americas not only as a flavoring, but also as an aphrodisiac, sedative, antidepressant and sleep aid. The ability of vanilla extract to affect hormones of the body and neurotransmitters of the brain is not well established by scientific studies, although many decades of anecdotal claims make it an intriguing possibility. Many other herbal remedies, such as Valerian root, chamomile and passion fruit, are proven to alter mood, so the potential certainly exists for vanilla bean.

Vanilla Rhubarb Smoothie

rhubrab-smoothie-640x427

1 1/2 cups stewed rhubarb
1 cup sprouts
1/4 cup almond coconut yogurt
1 banana
1/2 – 1 cup water (to your desired consistency)
splash of lemon juice
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp vanilla powder or extract

To stew add chopped rhubarb with ¼ – 1/3 cup of water, one tablespoon of desired sweetener (I used sucanut), ½ teaspoon vanilla and a generous sprinkle of cinnamon. Bring all ingredients to a boil and then lower to a simmer and let simmer for 15 – 20 minutes. Let the rhubarb cool to room temperature then chill in the fridge.

Add all the smoothie ingredients to your blender. Blend and enjoy.

Sources: The Nest, ServoLux

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