Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Vanilla (Vanilla planiflora)

Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia)

Vanilla, au contraire, is considered a spice rather than herbs. Renowned for its aphrodisiac properties, Vanilla is an excellent exotic and wild flavouring. Many people will like the calming scent of vanilla, and favours it in their ice-cream, milk shakes, and even tea. Used in combination with chocolate, Vanilla will provide an almost exquisite blend with energising properties.

Vanilla, as known to everybody, comes from the pod of the Vanilla Plant (which is an Orchid species). This pod, are collected when they are still green, and after which, been fermented in a painstaking months-old process, and voila! Your beloved Vanilla scent is born!

Pure Vanilla extracts is hard to find and expensive too. Often adulterated, poor quality vanilla pods are usually spiked with their synthetic counterpart, Vanillin. Though the flavour of vanillin resembles the spice markedly, it lacks the true ‘kick’ of the genuine spice.

The plant originated from South East Mexico and the ancient Mexican both Mayans and Aztecs used it to flavour their chocolate drink (it’s a kind of royal drink). This drink is still popular in the Yucatan region in Mexico. The drinks include chiles pepper, allspice, annatto, and sometimes, cinnamon and black pepper (which are imported spices).

As an aspiring herbalist, I took pity of myself that I do not know my own beloved country, Malaysia, produces Vanilla, my apologies…

Almost 95% of the world’s Vanilla is synthetic in origin which is synthesised from phenol. They name this compound vanillin, which in fact, the true vanilla essential oil contains. However, true vanilla extract contains far more constituents, piperonal and diacetyl to name a few…

Medicinal Usage

The plant is introduced into Europe by the Spaniards in the 17th century. It’s use exclusively to flavour chocolate drinks, which is still a popular usage nowadays. The difference in the way Europeans use vanilla to flavour their chocolate drinks is that, the Europeans introduced the usage of milk rather than water, which is brewed by the Mexicans. Its main usage is mainly as flavouring and as a culinary ingredient. The passage below summaries it best:

“Vanilla is an aromatic stimulant, with a tendency towards the nervous system. It has also been regarded as an aphrodisiac. It has been employed as a remedy in hysteria, low fevers, impotency, etc. But its use as a medicine is obsolete in this country, although still sometimes employed on the Continent and elsewhere.”
Bentley, Robert and Henry Trimen. Medicinal Plants; being descriptions with original figures of the principal plants employed in medicine and an account of the characters, properties, and uses of their parts and products of medicinal value. London, Churchill, 1880. (WZ 295 B556m 1880)

The essential oil, on the other hand is useful for various task. For starters, it is an aphrodisiac, mainly acting upon the emotional level. It creates a comfortable atmosphere and thus relaxes both partners. It also helps in treating itchy and dry skins. You can even increase the lustre of your hair by using vanilla oil. For this, I recommend the usage of vanilla in combination with Rosemary oil. The recipe is given below:

For Lustrous Hair

2 drops of Rosemary Oil
2 drops of Vanilla Oil
5ml of Almond Oil

Mix all the ingredients together in a saucer. After washing, apply evenly on hair and leave it on. However, it is not advisable to use on oily hair.

You can also wash your hair with infusion of vanilla pods and rosemary. However, I have heard somewhere that the usage of Rosemary is to darken hair, which is useful for Asians. I am not very sure about this and some recommended the usage of Chamomile for blonde type and Henna for reddish shades.

Vanilla essential oil is also good for relaxation. It brings back nostalgic memories, when your mom baked some cookies, which exudes the sweet scent into the air.

Culinary Usage

As much as I have mentioned in this article, it is favourably used in flavouring chocolate drinks. I have scoured the websites for the recipes but failed to do so. However, I have some other information that might be helpful.

Europeans in the 17th century fancies vanilla very much, and as a result they use it in any possible way. Another method of applications comes in the form of Posset. Posset is, as Wikipedia summaries it:

“A posset is a hot milk drink, popular in the Middle Ages for its supposed medicinal properties. Wine or ale was added to the milk, which curdled it, and the mixture was usually spiced. It was considered a specific remedy for some minor illnesses, such as a cold, and a general remedy for others, as even today people drink hot milk to help them get to sleep. A caudle was a later development that added a thickening agent -- usually some kind of grain (a cereal or "gruel") but sometimes eggs -- that also increased its nutritional value. Egg nog (or eggnog) belongs to the same family of milk punches but is seldom served hot now.”
Without much hassle, I will give you a recipe I found from ‘the epicenter’. It’s quite nice but since I can’t find any vanilla pods, I used the fake essence. Please don’t do so, as fake essence might endanger health. The posset below is good as dressing for summer fruits. The recipe:
600 ml (1 pint) double cream
75 g (3 oz) caster (superfine) sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut into four
Juice of 1 lemon

  1. Heat the cream, sugar and vanilla bean in a pan, bringing slowly to the boil. Continue boiling for 2 - 3 minutes.
  2. Stir in the lemon juice. Cool slightly, remove the vanilla bean and pour into 6 small serving glasses.
  3. Chill before serving.

***Before I conclude, this article is dedicated to a very special person, whose favourite is Vanilla. I will never forget this, I promise…***

1 comment:

srnath said...

very usefull