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FDA Warns of Dangers of Mexican Vanilla

Agency says it contains coumarin, which is related to ingredient in blood thinners

FRIDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- So-called Mexican "vanilla" is often made with a toxic substance called coumarin and shouldn't be bought by consumers, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned this week.

Coumarin is related to warfarin, which is found in some blood thinners. Eating foods with coumarin may be dangerous for people taking blood thinners, because the combination could increase their risk of bleeding.

Mexican vanilla -- which may smell and taste like real vanilla and is cheaper than the real thing -- is sold in Mexico and other Latin American countries and has started appearing in some U.S. stores and restaurants, the FDA said.

Pure vanilla is made with the extract of beans from the vanilla plant. Mexican vanilla is frequently made with the extract of beans from the tonka tree, an entirely different plant that belongs to the pea family. Tonka bean extract contains coumarin. Since 1954, coumarin has been banned from all food products sold in the United States.

Consumers should be cautious when buying vanilla in Mexico and other Latin American countries, the FDA advised. Look for "vanilla bean" on the label's ingredient list. Don't buy the product if it says "tonka bean" or has a vague ingredient list or no list.

More information

Florida State University has more about coumarin.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: U.S. Food and Drug Administration, news release, Oct. 29, 2008

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