This Enticing, Aromatic Spice Protects Your Health In Five Ways
Vanilla has an image problem. The run-of-the-mill perception is that vanilla is a plain and boring choice. Once you learn about this extraordinary spice, your appreciation may change. In fact, vanilla is a rare, expensive, and health-enhancing flavor.
Vanilla is produced from the seeds of a tropical climbing orchid that grows as a vine. Native to Mexico, vanilla was used by the Aztecs in the chocolate drink of their royalty. The bees and hummingbirds that pollinate this orchid are confined to Mexico, so for centuries after this spice became popular around the world, cultivation was limited to its home country.
The discovery of a method to pollinate the vanilla flower by hand allowed for its cultivation in Madagascar and some other tropical locations. However, the vine is fussy about light and shade, drainage, elevation, and rainfall, so locations to grow high-quality vanilla are limited.
In addition, it takes three years from planting to first flowering of the vanilla orchid. Growers need to be super attentive, as each flower blooms for less than a day, and must be pollinated in that short timeframe, then left on the vines for nine months to ripen before the vanilla beans are ready to harvest.
The green, newly-picked beans must go through a multistep curing process to develop the rich flavors and aromas of the spice, which is the product of the seeds in the cured pods. This process takes another six to eight months. The long, labor-intensive process to produce natural vanilla makes this the second most expensive spice in the world, second only to saffron.
The Health Benefits of Vanilla
At least 250 components of the seeds harmonize to produce the flavor, aroma, and health benefits of vanilla.