4 fresh uses for vanilla

By Leslie Barrie

Sure, it's great in baked goods. But check out all the other stuff this natural wonder can do for you.

Hunger buster
Take a whiff of vanilla extract right before digging into any delectable meal, and you might just eat less of it. That's because smelling a satisfyingly rich scent (like, you guessed it, vanilla) can trick your brain into thinking you've eaten more than you actually have, says Alan Hirsch, MD, founder of the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation.

"If you smell a delicious aroma before you take a bite of something indulgent, you'll lose the sensory excitement earlier," he explains. "This cues your body to feel content sooner, so you'll eat less."

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Home scent
Kick household stenches (and maybe even some germs) to the curb-sans chemicals-with vanilla. Not only does it lift odors, but a compound in vanilla may serve as an antibacterial. You can concoct your own nontoxic deodorizing spray by adding a few drops of pure vanilla essential oil (preferably organic) to a few cups of water in a spray bottle, says Alexandra Zissu, co-author of Planet Home. Spray it in stinky spots throughout your house to make your place smell like baked goods. Sweet!

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Skin soother
Vanilla is a potent skin saver, thanks to its antioxidants, which help soothe irritated skin, says Elizabeth TenHouten, author of Cooking Well: Beautiful Skin. "It can also help prevent damage from environmental pollutants and toxins," she adds.

Try her reviving scrub: Squeeze juice of 1 lemon into a bowl; discard seeds. Slice open 5 vanilla beans lengthwise, and scrape out seeds with a spoon. Add vanilla seeds, 3 tablespoons brown sugar, and 3 drops vanilla essential oil to lemon juice; mix ingredients well. Apply scrub to your face (avoiding your eyes), and massage in for a few minutes; rinse with warm water, then splash with cold water.

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Healthy bug spray
Say sayonara to stinky mosquito spray-vanilla's your new natural pest deterrent. "It's extremely effective at repelling mosquitoes because they can't stand the smell," says Sara Snow, author of Sara Snow's Fresh Living. Combine 2 ounces vanilla extract and 2 ounces water in a small spray bottle; spritz onto your exposed skin. Bye-bye, bug bites.

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Sweet tip!

Don't know where to store your vanilla beans? Pop 'em in with granulated sugar in an airtight container. Bonus: "The vanilla perfumes the sugar grains slightly," says Alexandra Zissu, co-author of Planet Home.