Benefits of vanilla
Vanilla planifolia is an Orchid commercially cultivated for the production of natural vanilla flavour. The genus Vanilla belongs to the family Orchidaceae, which consists of more than 110 described species .
Orchids have been among us long before we thought, in fact, ancient fossilized remains of a pollen-bearing bee as the first hint of orchids in the fossil record were found to be the first reference to their existence as Harvard University biologists recently discovered .
Their study suggest that orchids may have co-existed with dinosaurs some 76 to 84 million years ago, including groups of modern orchids as the genus Vanilla, that also evolved very early during the rise of the plant family , something that may remind us of others as Ginkgo biloba, a plant that belongs to a group of trees, the Ginkgoales, with an existence on earth dated more than 200 million years ago.
A lot has been said about Vanilla but in fact, the most important, the health benefits of vanilla, are so much and so important that it was due time to do it, let's see some of them. Image: Morguefile.
Common name: Vanilla
Vanilla beans have a triangular cross-section with a central cavity containing seeds, Each angle is lined with tubular cells, or papillae while the cavity sides consist of placental laminae.
The epicarp and endocarp are formed by one or two layers of very small cells while the mesocarp contains large, highly vacuolized cells, the cytoplasm being restricted to a thin layer along the cell walls .
The seeds of vanilla do not usually germinate and hence Vanilla plants are conventionally propagated by stem cuttings, a vegetative mean through resulting in a slow rate of multiplication, the collection of stem cuttings leads to the interruption of growth of the mother plant , something that makes even more difficult its cultivation and limits its availability. Image: Morguefile.
Most of the vanilla world production come from Madagascar, an island off Africa's east coast that produces a rough estimate of 3,500 tons per year (2012), followed by Indonesia with 3,400 tons of vanilla beans.
Due to this and because vanilla demand is increasing every year, vanilla prices are constantly raising, making vanilla become more and more expensive. To solve this problem synthetic vanilla is often used instead of natural vanilla.
Synthetic vanilla contains only one organic component derived from vanilla beans, namely vanillin, the flavor and fragrance that we most associate with vanilla. Vanillin is one of the primary chemical components of the extract of the vanilla bean.
Vanillin is a pleasant aromatic compound that occurs naturally in vanilla beans (Vanilla planifolia); it is a fine, white to slightly yellow crystal, usually needle-like, having an odor and taste suggestive of vanilla.
Synthetic vanillin is used as a flavoring agent in foods, beverages, and pharmaceuticals [6,9]. Vanillin is one of the most widely used flavoring agents, originally obtained from cured seed pods of the vanilla orchid Vanilla planifolia. Currently, vanillin is mostly produced via chemical synthesis .
VANILLIN AS FLAVORING AGENT
Isolated in 1858 by Gobley as the main flavor constituent of vanilla (Vanilla planifolia), but also present in other plants as potatoes and Ficus microcarpa [12, 13, 14], vanillin is today mainly synthesized or produced by chemical or biotechnological methods using fungi or bacteria . In addition to being a flavor molecule, vanillin exerts antifungal, and antibacterial properties [10,11,15].
But where can we find vanillin? Vanilla planifolia, Vanilla tahitensis, and Vanilla pompona are the most important vanilla species cultivated for the commercial production of natural vanilla flavor .
As we have already mentioned vanillin demand is increasing growing and the annual world market demand of it couldn't be met by:
- natural extraction,
- chemical synthesis, or
- tissue culture technology,
these biotechnological approaches may be replacement routes to make the production of bio-vanillin economically viable.
The production of vanillin using biotechnology has made use of chemical compounds as:
- ferulic acid,
- phenolic stilbenes,
- vanillic acid,
- aromatic amino acids, and
- waste residues
by applying fungi, bacteria, and plant cells  in order to be able to produce this valued food flavoring agent.
IUPAC name: 4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde
Chemical formula: (CH3O)(OH)C6H3CHO
Molecular weight: 152.15
HEALTH BENEFITS OF VANILLA
ANTI-DEPRESSANT ACTIVITY OF VANILLIN
Major depression represents a significant public health problem worldwide. Today, depression is estimated to affect 350 million people. The World Mental Health Survey conducted in 17 countries found that on average about 1 in 20 people reported having an episode of depression in the previous year .
The high prevalence of suicide in depressed patients (up to 15%), coupled with complications arising from stress and its effects on the cardiovascular system, have suggested that it will be the second leading cause of death by the year 2020 and studies show depression as a contributory factor to fatal coronary disease . In fact, we could easily say depression, together with cancer, is the 21st-century illness.
Can vanilla help on this? Well, maybe it's not the final solution but vanilla exerts many properties. Among the health benefits of vanilla, we have to highlight one, its anti-depressant activity.
In a study performed to evaluate antidepressant activity of vanillin in mice models of depression, it was found that vanillin at the dosage of 100mg/kg exerted antidepressant activity in mice, values comparable with fluoxetine , a one of a group of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) .
VANILLIN AND BREAST CANCER
But the properties and health benefits of vanilla go beyond all this. In a study performed in mice, vanillin show anti-mutagenic activity being able to inhibit chemical carcinogenesis .
The study performed as we just mentioned in BALB/c mice, focused on the effect of vanillin on the growth and metastasis of 4T1 mammary adenocarcinoma cells in BALB/c mice .
The results of this study showed that Vanillin exerts growth inhibitory effect towards cancer cells in vitro and has anti-metastatic potential by decreasing invasiveness of cancer cells [21,22].
VANILLIN AND LUNG CANCER
In another study, vanillin showed to be able to also inhibit cell migration of human lung cancer cells induced by hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) and be also capable of inhibiting angiogenesis [22, 23].
VANILLIN AND COLO-RECTAL CANCER
Last but not least, vanillin induces apoptosis in HT-29 human colorectal cancer cell line and NIH/3T3 normal cell lines with a concentration of 400 and 1000 μg/mL, respectively.
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