Vanilla is a fascinating food. It is the edible portion of an orchid plant and is considered both a fruit and a spice. Although we most typically associate vanilla with baking, throughout history it had uses in medicine. The health benefits of vanilla might surprise you. Although there’s one benefit I’ll bet you’ve already heard that vanilla can be used as an aphrodisiac, but more on that later.
How vanilla beans are farmed
In order to truly appreciate vanilla (and understand why it’s so expensive), the best place to start is with vanilla bean farms. Most vanilla lovers never stop to ask the question, “Where does vanilla come from?” but taking a look at vanilla’s origins is the best way to truly appreciate this beloved spice. So before we explore the health benefits of vanilla, let’s take a moment to understand where it comes from and why, per pound, natural vanilla is one of the world’s priciest ingredients.
In order to have a successful crop, vanilla farmers have to pollinate the flowers of vanilla bean-producing orchids by hand. And even then, they are not guaranteed success. However, doing it right will give a farmer a crop of a very lucrative spice. (The price for natural vanilla was around $300 per pound the last time I checked!)
However, there’s a long road from pollinating the orchid to having vanilla ready for sale. The vanilla beans have to be hand-harvested as well, then cured and dried. The process of drying and curing usually takes from five to fifteen days. (I’ve heard that some vanilla beans require as much as 30 days of care before it is ready for sale.) This makes it easier to understand why vanilla is almost as valuable as saffron.
How vanilla can impact your health
The health benefits of vanilla may contribute to this spice’s aphrodisiac reputation but the benefits extend far beyond exciting your sexual appetite. For starters, did you know that vanilla is antibacterial? According to the Journal of Food Protection, vanilla has antibacterial effects that combat the Cronobacter species. (Cronobacter can cause severe infections in babies, the elderly and immunocompromised adults.)
You may have heard that the scent of vanilla has a calming effect. But it turns out the vanilla smell may just have an antidepressant effect. One remarkable study points out that vanilla has been used as an anti-anxiety treatment since the 17th century, so it’s no surprise that vanilla offers an antidepressant effect. It may be that something as simple as putting on a vanilla perfume or using a vanilla essential oil in a moisturizer could elevate mood. But further study is needed to truly understand the role of vanilla as an antidepressant.
On the other hand, as far as the health benefits of vanilla go, we know without question that vanilla offers a surprising number of nutrients in such a small package. Vanilla is a source of magnesium, calcium and potassium. Of course, one tablespoon of vanilla extract would only give you 1% of your daily magnesium need and only slightly higher amounts of the other two nutrients.
However, the antioxidants found in vanilla show the potential to offer some pretty profound health effects. Because of their ability to fight free radical damage, the antioxidants in vanilla are part of research as a treatment for some degenerative diseases.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, one of the most famous benefits of vanilla is its use as an aphrodisiac. And although the facts that we now know that vanilla has mood-elevating effects and antioxidants that may help fight aging, the real health benefits of vanilla when it comes to its aphrodisiac history has to do with aroma.
Before a vanilla-specked morsel can hit the tongue, the hypothalamus, the gland that controls memory and emotion, jumps into action, evoking feelings connected with its powerful scent. The benefits of a vanilla essential oil dropped into warm bath water, is, if history is to be believed, that the body will awaken its sensuous inner calling.
Many of the world’s most famous ladies were said to embrace the use of vanilla-based perfume. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I used the unmistakable aroma to scent her boudoir. Famed courtesan Madame du Barry allegedly kept it in her arsenal. But according to Erotic Cuisine, the earliest use of vanilla as an aphrodisiac was in Mexico, where vanilla is said to have originated. Mexican vanilla beans were added to a chocolate drink used as an aphrodisiac.
Is the scent of vanilla an aphrodisiac for men?
According to Temptations: igniting the pleasure and power of aphrodisiacs, vanilla is ranked as one of the five most attractive aromas to men. A clinical study by the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation confirmed this assertion…but with a slight twist. You see, they discovered that of the men participating the in the study, the older men responded more to vanilla’s aroma than did the younger men. So you might say that one of the health benefits of vanilla is the possibility that it will land you a sugar daddy!
If you want to try these theories out for yourself, an easy way to start is incorporating more vanilla into your diet. The benefits of vanilla tea over your standard brew or flavoring your sugar with vanilla and perhaps dabbing a touch of vanilla oil behind the ears seem obvious!
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