When we say vanilla, what comes to mind? A warm, soothing-scented candle making your room a little sweeter on a cold winter day? A calming vanilla bean scrub that elevates your self-care regime? The nostalgic and crave-worthy fragrance that fills the kitchen on a cozy day of baking?
The vanilla bean offers all of this and more, as the compounds that give the vanilla bean its wonderful scent and taste support the body.
So what exactly is vanilla bean, what benefits can they provide, and how can you best use them? Let’s explore with The Brothers Apothecary!
What Are Vanilla Beans?
Hailing from orchid plants such as the Vanilla planifolia, vanilla is a type of fruit that hangs off the vines as long, dark bean pods. Cut these bean pods open, and you’ll find the delectably warming and sweet-smelling black seeds that can soothe and delight our senses.
Are Vanilla Beans Better Than Vanilla Extract?
So, are vanilla beans different from the well-loved vanilla extract most of us have on hand?
Because growing and sun drying the vanilla beans are labor-intensive, pure vanilla beans are often expensive. Many vanilla extracts use artificial vanillin flavoring from wood pulp byproducts instead.
While artificial vanillin still provides a wonderfully woodsy and warming sweet vanilla flavor and fragrance, the flavor is not quite as complex without the over 200 compounds found in the vanilla bean. Imitation vanillin also does not provide the same wellness benefits associated with true phytocompound found in the vanilla bean.
If you’re hoping to reap the benefits that vanillin offers, look for pure vanilla extract, pure vanilla bean powder, or the whole vanilla bean pods.
Where Do Vanilla Beans Grow?
Vanilla orchid plants grow best in tropical climates and are found in Mexico, Indonesia, Uganda, Comoro, Tongo, Mauritius, Tahiti, and Reunion. But the bulk of vanilla bean growth happens in Madagascar, where over 75% of the world’s vanilla beans are produced.
Can You Eat Raw Vanilla Beans?
The small seeds inside vanilla beans are most commonly used in recipes, but the pod itself is edible as well.
Vanilla bean seeds can be eaten raw. Mix them into frostings, cookie dough, or whipped cream for an added burst of natural sweetness. The pod itself can be used to infuse flavor into milks, sugars, and more. Vanilla bean powder is also made by grounding down the emptied pod.
What Are the Benefits of Vanilla Beans?
If just the thought of these vanilla bean-flavored delights has your mouth watering, we’re sure you’ll be excited to hear that vanilla bean doesn’t just taste great, but also provides a wealth of wellness benefits.
Known as the essence of the vanilla bean, vanillin is the most active plant compound within the vanilla bean, and is thought to support the body in a number of ways.
Vanilla bean contains a number of healthy vitamins and minerals such as pantothenic acid, riboflavin, Vitamin B6, magnesium, calcium, manganese, potassium, iron and zinc. Many of these components, along with the vanillin and vanillic acid contain antioxidant properties.
Antioxidants are molecules that can protect the body from damage caused by unstable molecules known as free radicals.
Some free radicals can be released during metabolic function, but they can also be introduced into the body from harmful stressors, such as car pollution or smoke. Within the body, these molecules can destroy healthy cells in an effort to stabilize themselves.
Antioxidants like vanillin can combat the negative effects of free radicals, as they have the unique ability to stabilize free radicals without becoming unstable themselves. Once stabilized, free radicals no longer have a reason to go after healthy cells, which protects the body from further damage.
Support Heart Health
One of the main dangers of free radicals is their potential to oxidize cells they attack, which can lead to oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is believed to negatively impact the heart overtime, but antioxidants can help limit oxidative stress by protecting cells from free radicals.
The potassium and zinc in vanilla beans can also support heart health by helping increase blood circulation and regulate blood pressure.
Vanillin is also thought to help balance out cholesterol levels within the body, which can help prevent plaque buildup in the arteries associated with high levels of LDL cholesterol.
Support Skin Health
It isn’t just the warm, winter-cozy smell that makes vanilla bean scented skincare products so popular (although that is a huge plus); pure vanilla bean really does have skin-benefiting properties.
With age, the body becomes less capable of fighting off free radicals on its own. When free radicals attack healthy skin cells, it can lead to blemishes, lines, and wrinkles. The antioxidants in vanilla can help limit these physical effects of free radicals that occur when free radicals take electrons from healthy skin cells.
Vanillin is also considered antibacterial, which can help nourish and hydrate the skin.
When used consistently, skincare products made with pure vanilla bean may help with blemishes, as the B-vitamins and pantothenic acid are thought to help clear out the pores.
The active compounds in vanilla beans may help rehydrate the hair, repair split ends, and even promote hair growth by helping increase blood flow to the scalp.
Support Healthy Cholesterol Levels
Evidence suggests that vanillin can work within the body to help lower LDL cholesterol levels while increasing levels of the healthy HDL cholesterol. Maintaining lower LDL cholesterol and higher HDL cholesterol levels can help reduce the risk of a number of harmful heart issues.
Using vanilla for aromatherapy has been found to help reduce stress and tension. The magnesium content in vanilla beans is particularly beneficial, as this mineral can work within the brain to help regulate neurotransmitters, which can lower stress and boost mood.
Magnesium can also help reduce tension in the muscles by blocking calcium from binding to muscle protein, which causes muscle contractions. In contrast, when magnesium binds to those proteins, it causes muscles to relax.
How Often Should I Eat Vanilla Beans for Benefits?
Like all things, vanilla beans should be enjoyed in moderation. A typical serving of vanilla bean is about half a tablespoon.
Can I Apply Vanilla Beans Topically?
Vanilla beans can do wonders for the hair, skin, and mind when used in topicals–such as scrubs and essential oils–that is applied directly to the skin or hair. When used in aromatherapy, the warming fragrance of vanilla bean can inspire tranquility and elevate the mood, which is why we use it in our own Love CBD Essential Oil Roller.
How Long Does It Take To See Benefits From Vanilla Beans?
When used as aromatherapy, the soothing effects of vanilla bean can kick in within minutes. When consumed, the vanillin compound can get to work, providing benefits from within after moving through the digestive tract, which often takes about an hour. And for supporting healthy skin, you’ll see the best results when used consistently over a few weeks.
The Bottom Line
Vanilla bean doesn’t just add flavor to your baked goods and make your kitchen smell amazing, but can also support your heart health, your mental wellbeing, your skin, your hair, and more.
Here at The Brothers Apothecary, we love incorporating calming and wellness-boosting Madagascar vanilla beans into our hand-crafted CBD products. You can check out the entire collection at our Shop!