Natural vanilla extract is made from the pods of the vanilla plant, commonly found in tropical areas of the world, and is widely used to flavor foods and beverages. It is also used in medicines and fragrances.
Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world because it is so labor-intensive to produce. Vanilla plant flowers are hand-pollinated, and the bean pods are ripened, dried, and conditioned to create their distinctive flavor and aroma.
Because true vanilla extract is expensive and also in high demand, synthetic vanilla is made from wood pulp and coal tar to use as a substitute. While synthetic vanilla is less expensive, it does not offer as many health benefits as natural vanilla.
Traditional practices around the world have found a number of wide-ranging therapeutic uses for vanilla, including as an aphrodisiac and to aid with gas relief. Studies have shown that both the flavor and aroma of vanilla can offer some health benefits, including:
Provides a Calming Effect
Research shows that vanilla has a calming effect on newborns born prematurely who smell vanilla before and during a blood test. The smell of vanilla also lessens crying in newborns.
Smelling vanilla can have calming effects on adults too. It can reduce startle reflexes and also provide some relief from sleep apnea, a sleep disorder in which breathing repeatedly stops and starts.
Helps Curb Sugar Intake
Because vanilla has fewer calories and carbohydrates than sugar, it can be used to reduce your sugar intake. Using vanilla as a sugar substitute also can reduce high blood glucose levels and help you lead a more heart-healthy lifestyle.
The alcohol in vanilla extract can numb some toothache pain, while its antioxidants may provide healing effects. To use this alternative remedy, put a couple of drops of vanilla extract on a cotton ball and apply it to the affected area in your mouth.
Vanilla extract gets its antioxidant properties from small amounts of the following minerals:
Nutrients per Serving
One teaspoon (4.2 grams) of vanilla extract — an amount common in many baking recipes — contains small amounts of:
- Calories: 12
- Protein: 3 milligrams
- Fat: 3 milligrams
- Carbohydrates: 531 milligrams
- Sugar: 531 milligrams
Things to Watch Out For
Imitation vanilla has different nutritional information than natural vanilla extract, so if you’re looking for the benefits of these minerals, it’s important to keep in mind that synthetic may not offer them. Some vanilla extracts, both natural and synthetic, can contain added sugar, too. Always check product labels on the specific brand you’ve chosen to understand what you’re eating.
It’s rare to consume vanilla extract alone, so while as an additive it might be low in carbs and calories, keep an eye on what you’re adding it to. Many of the desserts it stars in will have much higher amounts of carbohydrates, sugars, and fats, so remember to take into account the entire serving size.
How to Use Vanilla
Vanilla is a very popular flavoring. It’s commonly used in sweet desserts and drinks, but it sometimes appears in more savory dishes, too. You can find vanilla in a variety of foods and beverages, including:
- Ice cream
- Pasta sauces
- Soups or stews
- Baked goods