Vanilla extract is a natural, liquid product typically used as a staple ingredient in baking. Vanilla extract is made by dissolving vanilla beans in alcohol. When submerged in alcohol, vanilla beans release a natural compound called vanillin, which is responsible for the distinct vanilla flavor. This process results in a dark brown, sweet liquid with a powerful natural vanilla scent.1 2 Historically, Mexico was the largest exporter of vanilla as the vanilla plant is native to the east coast region of the country. Eventually, vanilla and vanilla extract were brought to Spain where it became a popular add-on ingredient across Europe.
Today, vanilla is produced in South and Central America, the West Indies, and throughout various islands in the South Pacific and Indian Ocean. Mexico is still an exporter of vanilla, however, not to the degree it used to be.2 Many of the vanilla extract products available for sale in grocery stores are derived from synthetic vanilla. Therefore, it’s important to look for vanilla extract products labeled “natural” so you can reap the health benefits associated with this product.2
Vanilla extract health benefits come from numerous plant compounds, including vanillic acid and vanillin. Vanillic acid and vanillin are known antioxidants. Antioxidants help to protect the body against damage done by free radicals, which can cause several diseases and illnesses.1 2 These antioxidant health benefits found in vanilla extract may even act as an anti-cancer agent by reducing oxidative stress. They also contribute to the vanilla extract benefits for skin, which help to rejuvenate skin as a topical treatment.3 Other vanilla extract health benefits include:1 2 3
Vanilla extract medicinal uses include:
There aren’t any common vanilla extract side effects or possible medicinal interactions. In rare cases, vanilla extract side effects can produce an allergic reaction, including sleep problems, skin irritation and headaches.2