There’s nothing quite like the smell of fresh vanilla. Not only does vanilla add great flavor to cookies and cakes, it can also be used as a natural perfume or cologne. Vanilla beans are highly prized in culinary circles, and many foodies consider it an essential ingredient for any pantry or baking cabinet. There is, however, a common artificial vanilla flavoring called vanillin that is produced as a way to get "the same thing" at a reduced cost. Unfortunately, vanillin is lacking in flavor and consumption of this artificial enhancer may not be a great idea.
What Is Vanillin?
Vanillin is a vanilla extract alternative made from wood pulp. It is commonly used to reduce production costs. And, unlike real vanilla extract which is produced from real vanilla beans, vanillin is synthetic and may be produced using petrochemicals and byproducts from the paper industry. Unfortunately, because it's cheap, the stuff is everywhere. Vanilla flavored over-the-counter medicines, beverages, and cookies are all places you're likely to find vanillin.
Effects of Vanillin
Don't get too frightened, vanillin isn't one of the most toxic food additives you'll find and in fact usually won't trigger much more than a headache or allergic reaction in sensitive folks. Usually, switching from artificial vanilla extract to pure vanilla extract is all that is needed to avoid issues. Many connoisseurs of the vanilla bean claim vanillin to be an inferior product to pure vanilla extract anyway. If you're making an attempt to eat quality food, you probably won't encounter much vanillin anyway.
Benefits of Pure Vanilla
The other thing to consider is that when you're consuming worthless vanillin, you're missing out on beneficial vanilla. Vanilla in its pure form has a few health benefits. Real vanilla extract contains a number of antioxidant compounds, at least according to one study. Interestingly enough, this same study claims that vanillin contains a much lower amount of protective activity. Vanilla extract may also be helpful for fighting bacteria.
Choose Only the Best
Vanillin may not be one of the most dangerous food additives, but it certainly won’t provide you the benefits obtained from pure vanilla. If you purchase processed foods or beverages, always choose organic. Most organic cookies, while still not the most healthy food on the planet, often contain pure vanilla. When baking, always choose organic vanilla beans or organic vanilla extract over artificial vanilla. Your health — and your taste buds — will thank you.
- Shyamala BN, Naidu MM, Sulochanamma G, Srinivas P. Studies on the antioxidant activities of natural vanilla extract and its constituent compounds through in vitro models. J Agric Food Chem. 2007 Sep 19;55(19): 7738-43.
- Choo JH, Rukayadi Y, Hwang JK. Inhibition of bacterial quorum sensing by vanilla extract. Lett Appl Microbiol. 2006 Jun;42(6): 637-41.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.
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