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Nancy
June 23rd, 2002, 04:05 PM
I was surfing around and came across this about Mexican vanilla. Wow! Here's the link, and also the info.

http://www.straightdope.com/columns/011207.html


Is Mexican vanilla toxic?

07-Dec-2001
[]Dear Cecil:
Vacationing friends are always trying to give me a "gift" bottle of pure Mexican vanilla extract that they've purchased in a Tijuana pharmacy. I've heard that the Mexicans have a toxin in their vanilla that damages the liver. Are my "friends" out to get me? --Fred Rowley, Santa Clara, Utah

Cecil replies:
Could be, but I'm having a tough time imagining the scenario. "Fred, you sob, you crossed me for the last time! Myrtle, hand me the Mexican vanilla." But you heard right about toxins._
Vanilla fragrans, as genuine vanilla is known, is native to Mexico, and well into the 19th century makers of high-quality Mexican vanilla had a lock on the business. But competitors elsewhere in the world began stealing market share, and in the 1880s the first synthetic vanilla was developed in Germany. During the Mexican Revolution of 1910-'20 fighting devastated the gulf coast, the center of Mexican vanilla cultivation, and production dropped sharply. Faced with a flood of cheap ersatz product and little of the genuine article to sell, Mexican producers began making synthetic vanilla themselves. But Mexico was still known as the home of the world's best vanilla, so the producers didn't admit what they were doing. They disguised the artificial taste by adding coumarin, an extract of the tonka bean, Dipteryx odorata. Coumarin tastes and smells just like vanilla, only more so. One whiff and your rube tourist from Utah is likely to say, "Whoa, that's good!" No, that's bad. Coumarin has been shown to cause liver damage in lab animals. The Food and Drug Administration restricted it starting in 1940 and banned it outright from all foods and food additives sold in the U.S. in 1954. Many other countries have done likewise._
Coumarin has its uses. A derivative called dicumarol is used as an anticoagulant (blood thinner). Under the trade name warfarin it's used to poison rats by causing internal bleeding. The 1983 article in FDA Consumer I'm getting this from says "there has been no indication that coumarin itself produces this blood-thinning effect in humans." I'm not so sure. Another FDA Consumer article about the dangers of herbal tea told of a young woman who drank large amounts of a home-brew tea containing coumarin and suffered abnormal menstrual bleeding. So yes, I'd say toxic. On the plus side, it's very reasonably priced. You can get a quart for only a few bucks._
Most of the vanilla sold in Mexico is synthetic, though it doesn't all have coumarin in it. Telltale signs of the fake stuff: clear, or dark and murky (the real stuff is amber colored and translucent), low alcohol content (genuine vanilla extract contains at least 35% ethyl alcohol), laughably low price. Pure Mexican vanilla is available, but you're better off getting it in this country. Warning: it won't be cheap._

azpam
June 23rd, 2002, 05:51 PM
I checked with our poison control center here in tucson,az at the university of arizona. She said they found some brands with coumadin in them. Also said though that these brands had only .00036th of a mg of it in it(very small amount but there) with a measurement of 1-2 tsp. Here are the brand names that DO have the above amount in it.Brands not on this list don't have any trace in them apparently. (Most names are spelled right,some might be off a letter or so) : Alfercos Premier, Alther,American Food D Mexico,Betica Central, Bremer,Cristal,Deyley,Diana,L'Gallito,L'Jarocho,Es sence Vallille,LaCorona de Oro,Empachador(artificial),Efcencia(LRB),Efemcias, L'igitinas,Day Papantta,Gallo,LaFavorita,Lubek,Lubor,LaJarocha,La puresta,Leudol,Old SanAntonio,Paisa(regular and colorless),Pardo(product of rikomitla),Pura Premier,Tropical World,Unica,Vanilla de Coroba,Zappor.Hope this helps all you vanilla lovers!

srwieland
June 24th, 2002, 07:51 AM
Wow!

Very revealing Nancy.

So, why can't we just load up on Mexican vanilla and skip the prescriptions! Guess you'd have to consume a lot of it though!

Nancy
June 24th, 2002, 08:27 AM
Some of the other posts I read about this said that labeling and ingredient lists from Mexico cannot be trusted for accuracy, so in my mind at least, that would mean that each and every batch and bottle of Mexican vanilla would have to be tested for amount of Coumarin. They went on to say that there are only a small number of Mexican vanilla extract producers that can be trusted to keep the product safe, even though the bottle might say it contains no Coumarin.

You're probably right that you would have to consume a lot of the stuff, but who knows?? If we can't judge it, then why take an unnecessary chance, even though it's cheaper, by far, but at what price?

There seem to be an ample number of posts with warnings.

gary
June 24th, 2002, 08:55 AM
Nancy: A week or two ago you responded to someone and mentioned "how do you know you had 'A-fib' or 'A-flutter'?"

What is A-flutter as I've not heard the term before?

Johnny Stephens
June 24th, 2002, 09:28 AM
When I lived in Phoenix, this used to make the news from time to time. I recall stories of people getting sick from using this vanilla (don't know if it was because of the coumadin), and the overall message was to stay away from it.

Nancy
June 24th, 2002, 11:59 AM
Here's a link for descriptions of different types of arrhythmias:

http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/heart/other/arrhyth.htm#artypes

JimL
June 24th, 2002, 07:04 PM
Vanilla Schnapps isn't on the list.
My wife recently brought home a recipe for a drink called Cheesecake. It uses vanilla schnapps and cranberry juice. It's all right, but not as good as Guiness.

Nancy
June 24th, 2002, 07:29 PM
It's not all vanilla that's a problem, only that from Mexico. And probably that which people buy there and bring home and use or give to others for a gift.

Vanilla that's sold here from reputable companies is fine.

Missy
June 24th, 2002, 08:56 PM
About 2 years ago, Pima Heart Assoc. in Tucson sent me a notice about the dangers of Mexican Vanilla. So I guess they believe it.
We had sometimes used it as we live 30 mi. from the border. We threw it away and do not use it anymore. In this area I am always afraid to eat others peoples cooking but the people that I know I have asked not to use it.
Missy

gary
June 25th, 2002, 03:32 AM
Just checked the Vanilla we buy each year in Mexico. (That's how we know it's time to return: the bottle nears empty each December 23.)

It has a diagonal notice in silver on it:

"This product does not contain Coumarin!"

Azteca is the brand name.

allodwick
June 27th, 2002, 08:06 PM
The previous post has the key to much of the controversy - Confusion over the words coumarin and coumadin. Please look at my website for a discussion of this http://www.warfarinfo.com/rat-poison.htm

Personally I have never seen anything about Mexican Vanilla causing any problem. I am 99.9999999999% sure that there has been no report of harm in any medical journal in the past 5 years.

I buy my Mexican Vanilla in the Mexican food section of Wal-Mart. Much cheaper than a trip to Mexico and less chance of developing tourista (Montezuma's Revenge).

It is true that labeling of Mexican products is suspect. One of my friends watched a guy refill empty bottled water bottles with a hose!!

gary
June 28th, 2002, 05:39 AM
I have a strong suspicion that not only Mexican companies fill their
boutique bottled water from a hose.

allodwick
June 29th, 2002, 05:12 AM
We're more sophisticated, we do it inside. The guy my friend saw was in full view of all the people in an airport gate area waiting to go home. Everyone was groaning and saying, "Oh. no!!!"