Skip to Content

Vanilla

Scientific Name(s): Vanilla planifolia Andr.
Common Name(s): Bourbon vanilla, Flat-leaved vanilla, Mexican vanilla, Tahitian vanilla, Vanilla, Vanillon

Clinical Overview

Use

Clinical trials are lacking; however, antimicrobial, antioxidant, antimutagenic, and anti-sickle cell effects have been studied. Vanilla has been used widely in food as a flavoring agent.

Dosing

There have been limited clinical studies to support a therapeutic role for vanilla. In a study in sickle cell disease, vanillin 1 g daily was given in divided doses over 40 days.

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been identified.

Pregnancy/Lactation

Generally recognized as safe when used as food. Avoid dosages higher than those found in food because safety and efficacy are unproven.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Some allergenic properties have been associated with vanilla.

Toxicology

Research reveals little or no information regarding toxicology with the use of this product.

Botany

The vanilla plant (V. planifolia Andr. [synonymous with Vanilla fragrans Ames, Vanilla tahitensis J.W. Moore, and Vanilla pompon Scheide.]) is a perennial herbaceous tropical climbing vine that grows to 25 m in the wild and can produce fruit for 30 to 40 years. It is native to Mesoamerica, a region that includes parts of modern day Mexico, where it grows abundantly. V. planifolia is cultivated in tropical areas of the Indian Ocean, including on the islands of Reunion and Madagascar, which produces approximately 80% of the world's supply. The fully grown unripe fruit (the bean or pod) is collected and subjected to a complicated and labor-intensive fermentation process; together with the drying stage, this curing process requires 5 to 6 months to complete. During this time, vanillin is produced by the enzymatic conversion of glucovanillin within the bean. Vanillin may accumulate as white crystals on the bean surface, giving it a frosted appearance.PLANTS 2010, Evans 1989, Leung 1980

History

Vanilla has a long history of use as a food flavoring and fragrance. Spanish explorers first introduced vanilla to Europe in the early 1500s. Although the vanillin constituent is often used in bulk food preparation, it cannot be readily substituted for the natural extract when the delicate fragrance of the pure extractive is desired. Vanilla has traditionally been used as an aphrodisiac, carminative, antipyretic, and stimulant, and in the treatment of fever, spasm, dysmenorrhea, and hysteria. It has been added to foods to reduce the amount of sugar needed for sweetening and is said to curb the development of dental caries.Duke 1985, Sinha 2008

Chemistry

The quality of the vanilla bean is not dependent on the vanillin content even though vanillin is associated with the characteristic fragrance of the plant. Numerous other constituents characterize the flavor and quality of vanilla and its extracts.

Vanilla beans contain approximately 1% to 2% vanillin (4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde), the major flavor component. Other major constituents are vanillic acid and p-hydroxybenzoic aldehyde. However, more than 200 other minor components contribute to the full-bodied fragrance of natural vanilla. Tannins, polyphenols, free amino acids, and resins have been described from the plant. Aromatic compounds found in the leaves and stems have also been identified.

Vanillin content differs with the variety of the bean, with Bourbon beans containing higher amounts than Mexican and Tahitian beans. Green vanilla pods have no flavor; enzymatic changes produce the flavor during curing and processing. Vanilla extracts are prepared by percolating ground vanilla bean with an alcohol/water mixture. Because synthetically-produced vanillin can be obtained inexpensively, it is often used as a substitute or adulterant for natural vanilla extract. Pure vanilla extract accounts for approximately 6% of the market for vanilla flavoring. Vanilla extract produced by biotechnological methods of plant culturing have yielded good grades of natural vanilla. Methods for the analysis of natural vanilla and biosynthetic vanillin have been published.Sinha 2008, Negishi 2009, Walton 2003, Sharma 2009, Schwarz 2009, Sun 2001, Teissedre 2000, Palama 2009, Anuradha2013

Uses and Pharmacology

Antimicrobial

Antibacterial and antifungal actions have been demonstrated in vitro for vanilla and vanillin, suggesting a role in food preservation.Sinha 2008, Choo 2006, Anuradha 2013 Aromatic compounds elucidated from vanilla are toxic to mosquito larvae.Sun 2001

Blood

An antisickling effect has been demonstrated for vanillin. In mice, increased survival in hypoxic conditions and a decrease in the percentage of sickle cells was shown, while in a small clinical study, vanillin 1 g daily produced measurable antisickling effects.Abraham 1991, Zhang 2004, García 2005

Cancer

In vitro and animal data

Vanillin may exert antimutagenic and anticarcinogenic activity by inhibiting a DNA repair process leading to the production of mutagenic cells. Antioxidant actionShyamala 2007, Kamat 2000 may also contribute to this effect. The ability to suppress phototoxic DNA damage, as well as potentiate cisplatin cytotoxicity, has also been demonstrated in vitro. Clinical studies are lacking.Kumar 2000, Kumar 2004, Kamat 2000, Durant 2003, Gustafson 2000

Clinical data

Research reveals no clinical studies regarding the use of vanilla in cancer.

Food/Scent

In controlled studies, meals flavored with vanilla provide a greater degree of satiety relative to nutritionally identical unflavored meals.Warwick 1993, Brondel 2009

Vanillin may have hypolipidemic activity.Sinha 2008

The odor of vanilla had no impact on response by infants to painful stimulus in a clinical study.Romantsik 2014

Dosing

There are no clinical studies to provide therapeutic dosage guidance for vanilla.

In a study in sickle cell disease, vanillin 1 g daily was given in divided doses for 40 days.García 2005 Because vanillin is metabolized rapidly in the upper digestive tract, oral dosing is undesirable for use in clinical trials. A prodrug has been developed.Zhang 2004

Pregnancy / Lactation

Generally recognized as safe when used as food. Avoid dosages above those found in food because safety and efficacy are unproven.

Interactions

None well documented.

Adverse Reactions

Although allergenic properties have been associated with vanilla, they do not appear to be related to the vanillin component of the plant. Rather, dermatitis may be caused by calcium oxalate crystals in the plant. Workers preparing vanilla have reported headache, dermatitis, and insomnia, which together have been characterized as a syndrome known as vanillism.Leung 1980, Duke 1985

In a survey of ingredients in prescription and nonprescription health care products, vanilla was the second most common flavoring superseded only by cherry, suggesting that people with a known hypersensitivity to vanilla extract should be vigilant to the widespread use of this flavoring in pharmaceuticals.Kumar 1993

Toxicology

Research reveals little or no information regarding toxicology with the use of this product.

References

Abraham DJ, Mehanna AS, Wireko FC, Whitney J, Thomas RP, Orringer EP. Vanillin, a potential agent for the treatment of sickle cell anemia. Blood. 1991;77(6):1334-1341.2001455
Anuradha K, Shyamala BN, Naidu MM. Vanilla--its science of cultivation, curing, chemistry, and nutraceutical properties. Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr. 2013;53(12):1250-1276.24090143
Brondel L, Romer M, Van Wymelbeke V, et al. Variety enhances food intake in humans: role of sensory-specific satiety. Physiol Behav. 2009;97(1):44-51.19419673
Choo JH, Rukayadi Y, Hwang JK. Inhibition of bacterial quorum sensing by vanilla extract. Lett Appl Microbiol. 2006;42(6):637-641.16706905
Duke JA. Handbook of Medicinal Herbs. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press; 1985.
Durant S, Karran P. Vanillins—a novel family of DNA-PK inhibitors. Nucleic Acids Res. 2003;31(19):5501-5512.14500812
Evans WC. Trease and Evans' Pharmacognosy. 13th ed. London: Balliere-Tindall; 1989.
García AF, Cabal C, Losada J, Alvarez E, Soler C, Otero J. In vivo action of Vanillin on delay time determined by magnetic relaxation. Hemoglobin. 2005;29(3):181-187.16114181
Gustafson DL, Franz HR, Ueno AM, Smith CJ, Doolittle DJ, Waldren CA. Vanillin (3-methoxy-4-hydroxybenzaldehyde) inhibits mutation induced by hydrogen peroxide, N-methyl-N-nitrosoguanidine and mitomycin C but not (137)Cs gamma-radiation at the CD59 locus in human-hamster hybrid A(L) cells. Mutagenesis. 2000;15(3):207-213.10792012
Kamat JP, Ghosh A, Devasagayam TP. Vanillin as an antioxidant in rat liver mitochondria: inhibition of protein oxidation and lipid peroxidation induced by photosensitization. Mol Cell Biochem. 2000;209(1-2):47-53.10942200
Kumar SS, Ghosh A, Devasagayam TP, Chauhan PS. Effect of vanillin on methylene blue plus light-induced single-strand breaks in plasmid pBR322 DNA. Mutat Res. 2000;469(2):207-214.10984681
Kumar SS, Priyadarsini KI, Sainis KB. Inhibition of peroxynitrite–mediated reactions by vanillin. J Agric Food Chem. 2004;52(1):139-145.14709027
Kumar A, Rawlings RD, Beaman DC. The mystery ingredients: sweeteners, flavorings, dyes, and preservatives in analgesic/antipyretic, antihistamine/decongestant, cough and cold, antidiarrheal, and liquid theophylline preparations. Pediatrics. 1993;91(5):927-933.7682684
Leung AY. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. New York, NY: Wiley; 1980.
Negishi O, Sugiura K, Negishi Y. Biosynthesis of vanillin via ferulic acid in Vanilla planifolia. J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57(21):9956-9961.19817415
Palama TL, Khatib A, Choi YH, et al. Metabolic changes in different developmental stages of Vanilla planifolia pods. J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57(17):7651-7658.19681612
Romantsik O, Porter RH, Varendi H. The effects of olfactory stimulation and gender differences on pain responses in full-term infants. Acta Paediatr. 2014;103(11):1130-1135.25060331
Schwarz B, Hofmann T. Identification of novel orosensory active molecules in cured vanilla Beans (Vanilla planifolia). J Agric Food Chem. 2009;57(9):3729-3737.19298044
Sharma UK, Sharma N, Sinha AK, Kumar N, Gupta AP. Ultrafast UPLC-ESI-MS and HPLC with monolithic column for determination of principal flavor compounds in vanilla pods. J Sep Sci. 2009;32(20):3425-3431.19750505
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;55(19):7738-7743.17715988
Sinha AK, Sharma UK, Sharma N. A comprehensive review on vanilla flavor: extraction, isolation and quantification of vanillin and others constituents. Int J Food Sci Nutr. 2008;59(4):299-326.17886091
Sun R, Sacalis JN, Chin CK, Still CC. Bioactive aromatic compounds from leaves and stems of Vanilla fragrans. J Agric Food Chem. 2001;49(11):5161-5164.11714297
Teissedre PL, Waterhouse AL. Inhibition of oxidation of human low-density lipoproteins by phenolic substances in different essential oils varieties. J Agric Food Chem. 2000;48(9):3801-3805.10995274
Vanilla planifolia. USDA, NRCS. 2007. The PLANTS Database (http://plants.usda.gov, January 2010). National Plant Data Center, Baton Rouge, LA 70874-4490 USA.
Walton NJ, Mayer MJ, Narbad A. Vanillin. Phytochemistry. 2003;63(5):505-515.12809710
Warwick ZS, Hall WG, Pappas TN, Schiffman SS. Taste and smell sensations enhance the satiating effect of both a high-carbohydrate and a high-fat meal in humans. Physiol Behav. 1993;53(3):553-563.8451323
Zhang C, Li X, Lian L, et al. Anti-sickling effect of MX-1520, a prodrug of vanillin: an in vivo study using rodents. Br J Haematol. 2004;125(6):788-795.15180869

Disclaimer

This information relates to an herbal, vitamin, mineral or other dietary supplement. This product has not been reviewed by the FDA to determine whether it is safe or effective and is not subject to the quality standards and safety information collection standards that are applicable to most prescription drugs. This information should not be used to decide whether or not to take this product. This information does not endorse this product as safe, effective, or approved for treating any patient or health condition. This is only a brief summary of general information about this product. It does NOT include all information about the possible uses, directions, warnings, precautions, interactions, adverse effects, or risks that may apply to this product. This information is not specific medical advice and does not replace information you receive from your health care provider. You should talk with your health care provider for complete information about the risks and benefits of using this product.

This product may adversely interact with certain health and medical conditions, other prescription and over-the-counter drugs, foods, or other dietary supplements. This product may be unsafe when used before surgery or other medical procedures. It is important to fully inform your doctor about the herbal, vitamins, mineral or any other supplements you are taking before any kind of surgery or medical procedure. With the exception of certain products that are generally recognized as safe in normal quantities, including use of folic acid and prenatal vitamins during pregnancy, this product has not been sufficiently studied to determine whether it is safe to use during pregnancy or nursing or by persons younger than 2 years of age.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

More about vanilla

Hide