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Foods -- General

What is Mexican vanilla?

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Mexican vanilla is a flavor enhancer made from tonka beans may be used to make cheap vanilla more aromatic and potent so it can be stretched and thus sold at a bargain at the border. It contains coumarin, an anti-blood coagulating drug. Coumarin is an FDA-banned substance that can cause internal hemorrhaging, liver damage and possible cancer. Consumers are advised that vanilla from Mexico, sold in the United States, is inspected by the FDA. The border bargains are not tested and thus the FDA suggests they may be discarded because coumarin may be present.

PREPARED BY: Angela M. Fraser, Ph.D., Associate Professor/Food Safety Specialist, and Carolyn J. Lackey, Ph.D., R.D., L.D.N., Professor/Food and Nutrition Specialist, North Carolina State University (August 2004)

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