Sweet and warm, enveloping and reassuring scents, this is vanilla, probably the best known and most used aroma in the world. Vanilla, the real and non-synthetic one, is obtained from an orchid, Vanilla planifolia, but also Vanilla tahitensis and pompona, and contains more than 200 different compounds although the most famous, and also the most powerful, is certainly vanillin, which gives the typical fragrance. But the most interesting thing is that in recent years several scientific studies have shown that vanilla brings with it not only delicious scents but also important health properties, acting as an antibiotic, antiviral, neuroprotective, antioxidant and anticancer agent. In short, many more reasons to add a pinch of vanilla to preparations and drinks! But let's take a closer look at this fascinating and delicious topic.
Vanilla, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action
Vanilla has a precious antioxidant action, aimed at counteracting the harmful effect of free radicals and aging processes, so much so that scientists consider it a valid promise as an antioxidant supplement for the future (Shyamala et al, J Agric Food Chem, 2007). Not only that, vanilla also helps reduce inflammation, which, when chronic, weakens the immune system and increases the risk of developing obesity, depression and cellular degeneration (Arya et al, ADV TRADIT MED (ADTM), 2021).
In addition to this, the anti-inflammatory action of vanilla also takes place at the gastric level. In particular, vanilla has been shown to modulate the inflammatory response and to protect the stomach lining by stimulating the production of protective mucus. In this way vanilla helps reduce the risk of developing gastric ulcer (Ciciliato et al, Pharmaceutics, 2022). Vanilla has been shown to counteract inflammation even in the case of overweight and obesity, which are conditions that increase inflammation levels. The action of vanilla must be traced back, at least in part, to its ability to support the good bacteria that populate the gut microbiota (Guo et al, Front Microbiol, 2018).
Vanilla and mood
For centuries vanilla has been considered an ally against anxiety and depression, resulting in a valid natural home remedy to lift the mood. Recent studies have been able to demonstrate this property of vanilla, observing its antidepressant action (Shoeb et al, Indian J Pharmacol, 2013). Not only that, the vanilla aroma is relaxing and can help counteract sleep disorders and sleep apnea (Sugaya et al, Low Urin Tract Symptoms, 2021).
Vanilla for brain health
Vanilla, through its active ingredient vanillin, protects the brain from neurodegeneration, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, also capable of counteracting any dysfunction of the mitochondria, which are organelles that produce energy for the cell (Arya et al, ADV TRADIT MED (ADTM), 2021 - Kim et al, Appl Biochem Biotechnol, 2019). Vanillin has been shown to protect above all the hippocampus and those neurons responsible for the storage of information and memory (Arya et al, ADV TRADIT MED (ADTM), 2021). It should be emphasized that the hippocampus is one of the first brain regions to be affected by possible deterioration in the case of dementia, so this makes the action of vanillin really noteworthy.
More vanilla, less sugar
Vanilla increases the perception of sweetness and palatability and this can help reduce the addition of sugar in preparations, with consequent health benefits (Bertelsen et al, Foods, 2020).
Vanilla against cellular degeneration
The active ingredient of vanilla, vanillin, has shown an interesting anticancer action aimed, above all, at the colon, liver and brain. Vanillin stimulated apoptosis, namely the programmed death of diseased cells, and contributed to inhibiting the migration of degeneration to other sites (Arya et al, ADV TRADIT MED (ADTM), 2021).
Vanilla, versatile in the kitchen
Vanilla lends itself to being added to various culinary preparations, such as biscuits, cakes, ice cream but also porridge and creams. Not only that, you can also add a pinch of vanilla powder to yogurt, to your smoothies to make them even more pleasant and full of beneficial properties, or, why not, to the hot chocolate or coffee you're preparing.
Vanilla, natural or synthetic?
Natural vanilla is expensive. For this reason, synthetic vanilla was also developed. However, while natural vanilla contains up to 200 compounds, synthetic vanilla contains only vanillin. Of course, vanillin is considered the most important active ingredient of vanilla, but in any case it is to be expected that the vanillin alone has a different action on health compared to the synergy of substances provided by natural vanilla. Not only that, often synthetic vanilla also contains sugar and chemical additives and food coloring that you should pay attention to (Vijayalakshmi et al, RJPT, 2019).
Therefore, in general, it is always better to opt for the natural product.