Vanilla can be used in some instances instead of chemicals and products that are harsh on the environment, so if you have a bottle of vanilla extract or essence kicking around that is past its best before date, don’t throw it out :).
First, a little bit about vanilla.
Vanilla is a flavoring derived from the pods of orchids that have their origins in Mexico and surrounding regions. These days, it’s used mostly for flavoring foods, but it used to be used medicinally as an aphrodisiac and to treat fevers.
The compound vanillin is the major component responsible for the flavor and smell of vanilla.
Vanilla has been shown to increase adrenaline levels and I was surprised to learn that it’s considered by some as truly addictive. It’s difficult to say how credible the claim is as I wasn’t able to find much further information.
Vanilla is also still widely used today in aromatherapy.
Natural vanilla is usually purchased as either whole bean, oil, powder or an extract in a solution containing alcohol. In aromatherapy, vanilla essential oil is used.
With demand of vanilla exceeding supply, much of what we buy today is synthetic vanilla or a combination of pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla extract.
Artificial vanillin is made from either guaiacol (from clove oil, nutmeg, cinnamon, and bay leaf) or from lignin-containing “brown liquor”, a by-product of a process for making wood pulp.
Most imitation vanillas only contain vanillin, which is just one of many identified aromatic components of the real vanilla beans.
Expect to pay far more for the real deal and you can also buy organic vanilla extract these days which is again more expensive.
Making your own vanilla extract
If you want to be sure about what you’re getting, make your own vanilla extract!
Add 4 vanilla pods to a jar containing a cup of vodka. Seal with an airtight lid and then place in a cool dark spot and allow to sit for two months, shaking the jar occasionally. From what I’ve read on the topic, that’s all there is to it and as the pods are so potent, you can keep adding vodka as you use it.
Alternative vanilla uses
If you have old vanilla essence lying around you don’t want to use for cooking, here’s a few ideas. As always, do spot tests before going all out with any of these suggested uses.
– Vanilla can be used as an insect repellent. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract to a cup of water. Put in a spray bottle and spray on your skin, then rub it in.
– Remove odors from microwaves, fridges and coolers by wiping down the insides with vanilla extract
– For odors in other areas, soak a cotton ball in vanilla extract overnight, then place on a jar lid in the affected area. This should not only help neutralize the smell but also act as a green air freshener.
– Use vanilla extract to freshen up potpourri (but vanilla oil is better for this)
– Use it (sparingly) in place of perfume. I wouldn’t mind smelling of vanilla, but it would make me hungry all the time!
– As vanilla extract usually has a high alcohol content, it can be used for removing sticker residue
Do you have any non-cooking uses for vanilla you would like to share? Please add them below!