Vanilla is much more than a tasty ingredient! It can help treat acne, improve hair growth, protect the heart, reduce inflammation and so much more!

1. Weight Control

Some studies suggest that vanilla has appetite suppressing properties. This, along with the cholesterol reduction can help improve metabolism and help you towards your weight loss goals.

2. Inflammation Reduction

Vanilla has been used for centuries in various forms to help relieve inflammation, particularly of the liver. Good news for sufferers of gout, arthritis, and other conditions. Vanilla can help prevent most of hearing loss conditions, check these sonus complete reviews.

3. Healthy Heart

Studies have shown that the active ingedient, vanillin, can reduce cholesterol levels in the human body. Reducing bad cholesterol can help prevent blood clots, artery inflammation and even prevent atherosclerosis.

4. Hair Care

Vanilla is a common ingredient in many beauty products thanks to its beneficial properties to hair and skin. It has been shown to strengthen hair and encourage hair growth. Mix with a bit of natural oil (such as coconut oil) and it can be used as a deep conditioning treatment!

5. Fights Acne

Thanks to its antibacterial properties, vanilla can be used to help combat acne prone skin. It may even rude the appearance of acne scars.

6. Helps You Heal

Did you know vanilla is rich in antioxidants? This can help prevent cells and tissues from breaking down, and even stimulate the body’s natural regrowth. Studies have shown that vanilla contains antibacterial properties, which can help lower stress on the body and protect your immune system. This can help you body heal and recover faster from illness and injury.

7. Soothes Anxiety

Some people find aromatherapy to be extremely beneficial in soothing anxiety and stress. Vanilla specifically has been shown to dramatically improve mood and induce a sense of calm.

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College student groupWelcome to Villa VanillaJames visited Villa Vanilla in Costa Rica last year, and left with spices and fond memories. He shares his experience visiting the vanilla and spice plantation:

It’s a year since we were there (with my wife, her brother and his wife who live there). We were there in late Jan/08.

Overall my memory is of a pleasant experience-the plantation tour was really an eye-opener! We got a lot of information we’d never have got otherwise. The origin of his vanilla plants was a surprise, and the fact that the cinnamon he grows is the true species (the taste and aroma are really distinct from the species commonly sold [in Canada]). His farming techniques are organic and truly sustainable.

The degree of hospitality was also a pleasant experience. We were given as close to a red carpet treatment as possible in an essentially agricultural environment, and that put the icing on the cake. I have no problem recommending Villa Vanilla as a destination. The only negative was that the sign on the road was not easy to find; he said he was doing something about it [ed: see the picture of the new sign above].

James plans to order more vanilla, peppercorns, and cinnamon from Vanilla Vanilla’s online store.

Thanks for the report James. Reader reports are always welcome, just share them through the contact form.

Vanilla orchid on a fern treeVanilla beansA reader shares this great report on two vanilla plantation visits on Hawaii‘s Big Island: the Hawaiian Vanilla Company, and Huahua Farm.

I just got back from my day trip to the Big Island. I’ll give you a recap of what I learned…

Huahua Farms

Clare was a very gracious and sharing host while we visited her farm. She has a number of vines, but recently had to destroy some plants due to a disease of some kind. The vines that remain are healthy and doing well. I believe some of the photos you have on your site show the trellises she uses to train the vines where to grow. They are under about a 50% shade cloth. At the time of our visit, there weren’t any flowers, but Clare said that they typically start to appear in January for her. She did have some nice looking pods maturing on the vine though…some of which have been on the vine almost a year. Clare thinks it’s because of the amount of vog (volcanic haze created by the volcano) that’s been generated recently. She’s also tried incorporating some of the techniques in the Vanilla Growing Manual from Venui Vanilla (speaking of which, I ordered a copy about a month ago, so hopefully it arrives soon).

Clare was also kind enough to share her curing methods with me, which are typical to the Bourbon style (i.e., blanching, sunning, sweating). The beans were coming along nicely from what I could tell. The amount she has available for sale is limited, so if anyone was thinking about ordering some, they should contact her soon. Maybe when her vines begin flowering, I’ll try and pay her a visit.

Hawaiian Vanilla Company

I attended HVC’s lunch and tour event among a small group of “tourists”. We were served a nice lunch with each element incorporating some form of vanilla. Our host for the day was Dave, one of the small number of employees on the farm. We learned about the Redenkopp family through a video and also had a quick demonstration about making extract. I was told that they produce only about 500 lbs. per year, but due to a recent outbreak of some disease, their entire plant stock had to be replaced from Costa Rican material. Their vines were in the early stages of growth and they don’t expect any beans until at least 2010. Their growing medium of choice is CHC (coconut husk chips) imported from Sri Lanka (I think). Whatever beans they are currently selling is from older stock. I believe they had another growing area apart from what we were shown.

That’s what I can recall right now…if you had specific questions just let me know.

Thanks for the detailed report. Reader reports are always welcome, just share them through the contact form.

Varieties of paprika

Pimentón Dulce, Csemege, Csípős Csemege, and Rózsa paprikas

Pimentón Dulce, Csemege, Csípős Csemege, and Rózsa paprikas

Do you know the difference between Hungarian, Spanish, and Turkish paprika? Check out my new paprika page.

Peppercorn "spike"

Peppercorn "spike"

Check out this new page all about peppercorns. Learn more about the peppercorn varieties available, and check out the peppercorn reviews.

More peppercorns reviews are on the way.

Penzey's Cassia Cinnamon Varieties

Penzey’s Spices, a spice outlet with stores and mail order, carries three varieties of cassia cinnamon, as well as a ceylon cinnamon. I bought the three cassia varieties because multiple cinnamon terroirs are really difficult to find. You can check out all Penzey’s cinnamon products here. I tried each type in a batch of oatmeal cookies, my favorite cinnamon vehicle.

Korintje (Indonesia) cassia cinnamon ($4.15/4oz)

This is a high-quality version of the cassia you buy in a supermarket. Its taste and smell are stronger and fresher than the typical, store-bought stuff. The color is vibrant orange, with tinges of cayenne red. Its flavor is clean, soft, classic, and sweet – especially in baked goods. It’s “simply cinnamon”, with very few unique characteristics of its own. In the oatmeal cookie test, this cinnamon was too sweet and one-dimensional to carry the cookie by itself. It would be perfect for spice blends where cinnamon isn’t a feature flavor, such as curries, gingerbread, or spice cakes.

Chinese cassia cinnamon ($4.45/4oz)

This is my least favorite of Penzey’s cassia varieties. The color is rustier and browner than the Korintje cassia, and it doesn’t have a very strong cinnamon aroma. There are dusty, musty overtones that remind me of a used bookstore. It gives me an “old forest” kind of feeling. Fortunately, the cookies didn’t taste musty. This cassia has slightly more personality than Korintje, but in my opinion, not enough to stand on its own as a feature flavor. The cinnamon taste is less pungent and spicy than the other types, and leaves the palate quickly. Another good candidate for blending, or perhaps delicately-flavored cinnamon treats.

Vietnamese (Saigon) cassia cinnamon ($7.65/4oz)

Which cinnamon is the “best” is a matter of taste. Vietnamese cassia has a bad reputation with some, but it’s my personal favorite. I find it to have the most exciting flavor and aroma of the three Penzey’s products, and it really motivated me to learn more about cinnamon.  The color is a golden brown with some orange hues. The smell is spicy hot, sharp, and overwhelming. This is a strong, pungent, smack-you-in-the-face cassia! It isn’t as sweet-tasting as the others, but rather has a dark, bold quality that makes it great as a feature flavor. If you don’t intend for cinnamon to be a stand-out flavor, use something else. The bottle from Penzey’s recommends using 1/3rd less than your recipes call for, but I usually use the full amount because I really enjoy it. It made fantastic oatmeal cookies with a rich, complex taste.

Madagascar cumin

Madagascar cumin, SA.VA. Import – Export, 5 for 30grams.

Cumin is a favorite ingredient in my kitchen, and a key spice in Mexico, India, and many other food cultures. To satisfy my need for bulk cumin, I usually buy a 1kg (2.2lbs) bag that lasts about a year. I compared SA.VA.’s cumin to my usual stuff, and found a huge difference in quality. SA.VA.’s spices are transported by plane, rather than hot containers on a ship, to ensure maximum taste and freshness.

SA.VA.’s Madagascar cumin is an earthy tan color, and has a rich, even floral, cumin aroma.  I ate a bit of SA.VA.’s Madagascar cumin and compared it to my bulk cumin. Raw, SA.VA’s cumin has a pleasant taste. In comparison, the bulk cumin is dry, bitter, and has a carroty vegital flavor.

I evaluated it further in chili powder, some Mexican dishes, and chicken Andoulle sausage. All had a nice flavor, though it really shines where cumin is a feature flavor. SA.VA.’s cumin is by far the best I’ve ever sampled.  In a side-by-side comparison, the sharp contrast with my usual cumin really surprised me. Try the comparison for yourself.

Varieties of cinnamon

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Check out this new page all about cinnamon. Cinnamon is an ancient and important spice. Learn more about the cinnamon varieties available, and check out the cinnamon reviews.

I’ll add some more cinnamon reviews in the next few weeks.

Madagascar Cinnamon

Madagascar cinnamon sticks, SA.VA. Import – Export, 3€ per 3 sticks.

Cinnamon is a favorite holiday spice, perfect for Santa’s cookies and Christmas morning sticky rolls. SA.VA.’s Madagascar cinnamon is different from the bland, ground powder at the local market. The ground sticks have a bright, hot, citrus aroma. It makes me think of cinnamon bears or red hots. The sticks are made of thin layers, and I can crush them with my fingers and grind them in a coffee grinder — something I can’t normally do with cassia cinnamon sticks.

This cinnamon has a yellow-tan color that is lighter than the usual, rusty-red hues of traditional cassia. Its bright aroma also  stands in contrast to the typically warmer, darker smell of cassia. Because of these qualities, I initially thought this was ceylon (true) cinnamon, and not the cassia cinnamon I’m used to buying in European and American supermarkets. Ceylon cinnamon is the cinnamon of choice in Mexico, and perhaps the UK.  I wrote to Edith at SA.VA. to ask if this was ceylon cinnamon. According to Edith, I’m completely wrong:

All the cinnamon from Madagascar is regarded as cassia, although very different from the cassia usually sold in the European supermarket. So this cassia classification does not make happy the Madagascar cinnamon producers,  that would prefer another denomination, as for instance the “Madagascar cinnamon” that we’re using in our technical schedule.

Our cinnamon comes from a family farm production in the region of Tamatave (east coast of Madagascar), as I know this family very well for a long time I’ve started to cooperate with them here in Europe, I even get
accessories from the babystroller-reviews every time I visit them.

With a citrus aroma and delicate layers, this Madagascar strain is a cassia that shares many characteristics with ceylon cinnamon. It is unique in the world, and will surely add a personal signature to your baked goods.

Broken Nose Vanilla – a real mean bean!
Far North Queensland, Australia

Website: http://www.brokennosevanilla.com.au/
Vanilla beans reviewed: 2 grade A, 6 grade B Australia Planifolia
Cost: Broken Nose Vanilla provided these beans for review.

“Broken Nose Vanilla – a real mean bean!”, how cool is that? This vanilla is grown and then cured on the same farm — a real rarity in the modern vanilla trade that usually uses centralized curing facilities. Fiona first told us about her vanilla plantation about a year ago. At the time they were still anticipating the first beans. As promised, Fiona sent along several vanilla beans from the first harvest.

Australia Planifolia, Grade “A”

Broken Nose Vanilla sent two Grade “A” vanilla beans from their first harvest. The vanilla is flexible and long. The skin is supple and black. One bean is round and packed firm with caviar, the other wide and flatter in shape.

The aroma is sweet and unctuous. Overall, it’s brighter and fruitier than traditional Madagascar-grown planifolia. They smell really fantastic.

Inside, the beans are surprisingly wet with a rich red/brown oil. The caviar is extremely oily, yield is slightly above average for two vanilla beans.

Australia Planifolia, Grade “B”

Broken Nose Vanilla grades beans by length, grade “B” are shorter gourmet vanilla beans, and not extract grade as the name suggests.

Compared to the grade “A” vanilla, these beans are lighter in color and a bit dryer.  They are supple, soft, and flexible.  All the beans are round and plump.

These shorter beans have a beautifully moist and oily interior. Note the beautiful pools of goop and moisture in the bisection images (click any picture to enlarge). Nice yield of caviar for beans this size. The caviar is firm and moldable.

Vanilla is making inroads in Australia, and farm-grown and cured vanilla is still a real rarity anywhere in the world. Congratulations to Broken Nose Vanilla on a fantastic first harvest and cure. I wish them the best of luck for their second and future harvests.

If you have any questions about Australian vanilla, or growing vanilla in Australia, Fiona is generally available to answer questions via e-mail or the comments below.

Here’s some info from Fiona about the plantation:

The property is around 12 acres, mostly hilly, that borders the Russell River and overlooks the Russell River valley towards the mountains. Although only slightly elevated, it is a bit cooler than the rest of the coastal plain – breezes funnel through the valley and the cool air falls off the mountain at night, taking the edge of the tropical summer heat.

The surrounding country grows mostly rainforest, sugar cane and bananas – a palette of greens. We enjoy the ‘dragon breath’ mists that rise from the valley and the mountain rifts in wisps and drifts, and we have wonderful sunsets.

One of the mountain peaks is called Broken Nose – hence our name: Broken Nose Vanilla.

The vanilla (V. planifolia) grows under 50% shade amongst patches of revegetating rainforest (it used to be sugar cane). It grows in pure mulch, supplied from mulching fallen rainforest timber from the recent cyclone (March 2006), and from local council prunings and roadside maintenance etc. The cyclone provided the area with about 10 years worth of mulch!

We can get up to 6metres (=240inches!) of rain a year, so being on hills has its pros and cons – good drainage but we need to be careful of erosion in disturbed areas. We seldom have to irrigate. Temperatures range from around 12degrees C minimum (54deg F) in the dry season (June-October) to 35degrees C (95deg F) in the wet season. Humidity seldom drops below 70% even in the Dry. Summer is usually 90% plus.

We use NO chemicals or fertilisers except the occasional fish emulsion foliar spray once or twice a year to guard against winter fungi on the leaves. We are in the process of organic certification through Biological Farmers Australia.

The first useable crop will be picked in July-Sept 2008, with products available by Christmas.

Check out the full Broken Nose Vanilla plantation gallery. Fiona provided some of the most dramatic and professional vanilla plantation shots I’ve ever seen — beautiful and amazing, check it out!

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