The 10-part series on ways to Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right continues! Last week, we talked about the health and flavor boosts that berries can give to a meal. This week, we're going to do the same with vanilla. Scroll to the bottom for a free guide to purchasing vanilla.
Are you ready for this?
Today's Featured Food: Vanilla
You may have heard the word "vanilla" as a descriptor for something common or plain. In reality, vanilla is anything but plain. That connotation came about largely because vanilla is so popular that it often becomes the default flavor for foods like ice cream.
Vanilla is amazing, not only as a bright and clear flavor sensation on its own, but also as a flavor enhancer for foods that feature other key ingredients, like chocolate and caramel. Adding vanilla to a whole bunch of different foods is a wonderful way to enjoy the taste of eating right!
Vanilla and Your Health:
So. Vanilla is an awesome flavor. But there's more to the story than that.
A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry revealed that vanilla extract contains a whole bunch of antioxidants. Antioxidants, as the name might suggest, protect your cells from the dangers of oxidation. By protecting your body from free radical damage, these antioxidants can reduce your risk of disease. How cool is that?
Make vanilla a part of your meals, for your health!
How to Purchase Vanilla:
Vanilla is found in many forms. Look for it in grocery stores, specialty food stores, spice shops, or online.
Here is a guide to the most common varieties (ordered by flavor quality from best to least):
Vanilla Pods (a.k.a. Vanilla Beans): These are the actual pods from the vanilla orchid plant. They should be kept in a sealed container or bag, which will prevent them from drying out. To use them, split a pod in half with a knife, then use the knife's tip to scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds to your ingredients and proceed with the recipe. Oh, and don't discard the pods! If you put them in a sealed jar with some sugar, you can make vanilla-flavored sugar. Or, if you're making custard, you can simmer the vanilla bean pods in the milk. Just strain them out before proceeding with the recipe.
Vanilla Bean Paste: You can find vanilla bean paste in specialty shops (like our favorite Boulder Spice store). This paste contains the vanilla seeds, capturing their aromatic flavors. It is more economical than using vanilla beans, and it has a long shelf life.
Vanilla Powder: Vanilla powder usually has a malto-dextrin or starch base, which then has vanilla flavor and essence added to it. This preparation does not include any added alcohol.
Vanilla Extract: This is usually what you find in the grocery store. It will have a nice vanilla flavor that is suspended in an alcohol and water base, but it won't usually contain the vanilla bean seeds. It's great in cookies or for the budget-minded chef. McCormick makes a popular variety that is found in most grocery stores.
Vanilla Bean Sugar: This is exactly what it sounds like -- sugar flavored with vanilla beans. In high-quality mixes, you will be able to see parts of the vanilla bean pods and seeds.
Vanilla Syrup: Vanilla syrup is a flavoring agent that is packed with sugar, with a little vanilla thrown in as well. It's especially popular in coffee drinks. Be careful when ordering drinks with syrup or when adding it to drinks because 2 tablespoons can contain 70 calories.
Vanilla as a Flavor Booster:
Vanilla's delicate and spicy flavor lends itself well to a whole bunch of tasty dishes. We tend to use it in mostly sweet recipes, but, as we discovered in testing recipes for our book, Salad Secrets, vanilla adds a surprisingly delicious kick to salad dressings as well. So don't be afraid to experiment. Whether you're whipping up a comforting vanilla custard or adding pep to a spinach salad, vanilla is the spice for you!
Some of our very favorite recipes include...
- Berries with Vanilla Custard
- Calcium-Boost Muesli
- Double Lemon Cheesecake
- Easy Pumpkin Pudding
- Flax Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Spinach Salad
- Tea-Poached Pears
- Vanilla Fruit Dip
Who knew that vanilla was so awesome? Use this flavor to help people enjoy the taste of eating right this Nutrition Month. Its versatility, depth of flavor, and health benefits can't be beat!
For even more Nutrition Month resources, check out the Nutrition Education Store. Some of our top-selling materials for Nutrition Month include...
Free handout:Vanilla Purchase Guide
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.