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 [2].

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 [16].

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 [16], 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.


Family: Orchidaceae

Genus: Vanilla

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 [8].



VANILLAThe 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 [1], 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 [4]. 



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 [15]. 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 [3].

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: 

  • eugenol,
  • isoeugenol,
  • lignin,
  • ferulic acid,
  • sugars,
  • phenolic stilbenes,
  • vanillic acid,
  • aromatic amino acids, and
  • waste residues

by applying fungi, bacteria, and plant cells [19] 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





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 [20]. 

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 [7]. 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 [6], a one of a group of antidepressants called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) [17].



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 [21].

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 [21].

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].



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].



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. 

Disclaimer: The information presented on this website is not intended to prescribe or give in any way or form medical advice, recommend or diagnose. Please read the disclaimer at the bottom of this page for more info.



[1] Shoot differentiation from protocorm callus cultures of Vanilla planifolia (Orchidaceae): proteomic and metabolic responses at early stage Tony L Palama, Patrice Menard, [...], and Hippolyte Kodja
[2] Bory S, Lubinsky P, Risterucci A-M, Noyer J-L, Grisoni M, Duval M-F, Besse P. Patterns of introduction and diversification of Vanilla planifolia (Orchidaceae) in Reunion Island (Indian Ocean) Am J Bot. 2008;95:805–815. doi: 10.3732/ajb.2007332.
[3] Havkin-Frenkel D, Dorn R. Vanilla. Spices, flavor chemistry and antioxidant properties ACS Symposium. 1997;660:29–40. full_text.
[4] Ana Rita Brochado,1,4 Claudia Matos,1 Birger L Møller,2 Jørgen Hansen,3 Uffe H Mortensen,1 and Kiran Raosaheb Patilcorresponding author4 1Center for Microbial Biotechnology, Technical University of Denmark, DK - 2800 Kgs. Lyngby, Denmark 2Plant Biochemistry Laboratory, Department of Plant Biology and Biotechnology, University of Copenhagen, DK - 1871 Frederiksberg C, Denmark 3Evolva Biotech A/S, Copenhagen, DK - 1870 Frederiksberg C, Denmark 4Structural and Computational Biology Unit, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Meyerhofstrasse 1, 69117, Heidelberg, Germany corresponding authorCorresponding author. Ana Rita Brochado: rita.brochado/at/; Claudia Matos: klaudiamatos/at/; Birger L Møller: blm/at/; Jørgen Hansen: jorgenh/at/; Uffe H Mortensen: um/at/; Kiran Raosaheb Patil: patil/at/
[5] Clark GS. Vanillin. Perfumer & flavorist. 1990;15:45. 46, 50, 52-54.
[6] Indian Journal of Pharmacology Ahsan Shoeb, Mukta Chowta, Gokul Pallempati, Amritha Rai, and Ashish Singh Department of Pharmacology, Kasturba Medical College, Manipal University, Mangalore, Karnataka, India Correspondence to: Dr. Mukta N. Chowta.
[7] WHO report on mental illness released October 4, 2001. [Last accessed on 2012 Aug 7]. Available from: .
[8] Localization of beta-D-glucosidase activity and glucovanillin in vanilla bean (Vanilla planifolia Andrews). Odoux E1, Escoute J, Verdeil JL, Brillouet JM.
[9] Tai A, Sawano T, Yazama F, Ito H. Evaluation of antioxidant activity of vanillin by using multiple antioxidant assays. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2011;1810:170–7.
[10] Boonchird C, Flegel TW. In vitro antifungal activity of eugenol and vanillin against Candida albicans and Cryptococcus neoformans. Can J Microbiol (1982) 28:1235–41.10.1139/m82-184
[11] Yemis GP, Pagotto F, Bach S, Delaquis P. Effect of vanillin, ethyl vanillin, and vanillic acid on the growth and heat resistance of Cronobacter species. J Food Prot (2011) 74:2062–9.10.4315/0362-028X.JFP-11-230
[12] Edderkaoui M, Odinokova I, Ohno I, Gukovsky I, Go VL, Pandol SJ, et al. Ellagic acid induces apoptosis through inhibition of nuclear factor kappa B in pancreatic cancer cells. World J Gastroenterol (2008) 14:3672–80.10.3748/wjg.14.3672
[13] Ao C, Li A, Elzaawely AA, Xuan TD, Tawata S. Evaluation of antioxidant and antibacterial activities of Ficus microcarpa L. fil. extract. Food Control (2008) 19:940–8.10.1016/j.foodcont.2007.09.007
[14] Cottle W, Kolattukudy PE. Biosynthesis, deposition, and partial characterization of potato suberin phenolics. Plant Physiol (1982) 69:393–9.10.1104/pp.69.2.393
[15] Front Oncol. 2013; 3: 202. François Gaascht,1 Mario Dicato,1 and Marc Diederich2,* 1Laboratory for Molecular and Cellular Biology of Cancer (LBMCC), Hôpital Kirchberg, Luxembourg, Luxembourg 2Department of Pharmacy, College of Pharmacy, Seoul National University, Seoul, South Korea
[16] First orchid fossil puts showy blooms at some 80 million years old
[17] Wikipedia article on Fluoxetine under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.
[18] Plant names Porcher Michel H. et al. 1995 - 2020, Sorting Vanilla Names. Multilingual Multiscript Plant Name Database - A Work in Progress. Faculty of Land & Food Resources. The University of Melbourne. Australia. < > (2006).
[19] Biovanillin from agro wastes as an alternative food flavour. Zamzuri NA1, Abd-Aziz S.
[20] DEPRESSION A Global Public Health Concern Developed by Marina Marcus, M. Taghi Yasamy, Mark van Ommeren, and Dan Chisholm, Shekhar Saxena WHO Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse
[21] Vanillin suppresses in vitro invasion and in vivo metastasis of mouse breast cancer cells. Lirdprapamongkol K1, Sakurai H, Kawasaki N, Choo MK, Saitoh Y, Aozuka Y, Singhirunnusorn P, Ruchirawat S, Svasti J, Saiki I.
[22] Venus Flytrap (Dionaea muscipula Solander ex Ellis) Contains Powerful Compounds that Prevent and Cure Cancer François Gaascht, Mario Dicato, and Marc Diederich
[23] Lirdprapamongkol K, Kramb JP, Suthiphongchai T, Surarit R, Srisomsap C, Dannhardt G, et al. Vanillin suppresses metastatic potential of human cancer cells through PI3K inhibition and decreases angiogenesis in vivo. J Agric Food Chem (2009) 57:3055–63.10.1021/jf803366f
[24] Apoptosis and cell cycle arrest of human colorectal cancer cell line HT-29 induced by vanillin. Ho K1, Yazan LS, Ismail N, Ismail M.