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Vanilla: 8 Healthy Facts

Why vanilla is rare, expensive, and oh-so-delicious -- especially in our vanilla panna cotta recipe.
By Chloe Thompson
WebMD Magazine - Feature

The Family of Vanilla

Vanilla is the only fruit-bearing member of the orchid family.

The Price of Vanilla

After saffron, vanilla is the most expensive spice in the world.

Medicinal Uses of Vanilla

In Europe, vanilla was once used in the production of certain medicines such as nerve stimulants and as an aphrodisiac.

The Extraction of Vanilla

Pure vanilla extract contains 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon during extraction, according to FDA specifications.

The Short Life of a Vanilla Flower

The flower that produces the vanilla bean lasts only one day. The beans are handpicked and then cured, wrapped, and dried in a process that takes four to six months.

The Popularity of Vanilla

Nearly 30% of Americans choose vanilla as their No. 1 ice cream flavor (followed by chocolate, at less than 10%).

The Pollination of Vanilla

Only the Melipona bee, found in Central America, can pollinate vanilla. In other parts of the world, humans duplicate the process using a wooden needle.

The Calories of Vanilla

One tablespoon of vanilla extract has 37 calories, a large portion of which comes from sugars and alcohol.

Healthy Recipe: Vanilla Panna Cotta

Makes 4 servings


1 1-ounce envelope unflavored gelatin

1 and 1/3 cup whole milk, divided

1 cup fat-free half-and-half

6 tbsp sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (can substitute 1 tsp vanilla extract added after custard is removed from heat)

cooking spray

1 mango

2 tbsp chopped pistachios


1. Sprinkle gelatin over 1/3 cup milk in a small bowl and let stand 5 minutes until thickened.

2. Combine remaining milk, half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla bean in heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a simmer (do not boil) over medium-low heat. Remove from heat, remove vanilla bean, and add gelatin mixture.

3. Stir until gelatin mixture is completely dissolved.

4. Pour mixture into individual ramekins coated with cooking spray.

5. Cover and chill until set (about 6 to 8 hours).

6. Peel and chop mango into bite-size pieces.

7. Invert ramekins on individual plates, garnish with mangoes and pistachios.

Per serving: 223 calories, 7 g protein, 36 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat
(2 g saturated fat), 11 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 32 g sugar, and 117 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 26%.

Reviewed on March 24, 2011

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