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"Vanilla reaches into the primal state of hearth and home," says Patricia Rain, the author of The Vanilla . "It's sweet, floral, elegant and soothing".
Vanilla is a flavoring. It comes in many forms: liquid extracts, vanilla powder, vanilla paste, and vanilla beans; each one has a specific use in cooking and baking. It can be pure, which is the best, or artificial. I like to buy pure vanilla products from Nielsen-Massey, found in specialty and gourmet stores. Pure vanilla comes from a bean from the orchid plant and is grown in four main areas of the world. Each region produces vanilla beans with distinctive characteristics and attributes. Madagascar, an island off the coast of Africa, is the largest producer of vanilla beans in the world and the ensuing vanilla is known as Madagascar
The term Bourbon applies to beans grown on the Bourbon Islands - Madagascar, Comoro, Seychelle and Reunion. There is no connection with the liquor produced in Kentucky in the United States. Madagascar Bourbon vanilla is considered to be the highest quality pure vanilla available, described as having a creamy, sweet, smooth, mellow flavor.
Indonesia is the second largest producer of vanilla, with a vanilla that is woody, astringent and phenolic. Madagascar and Indonesia produce 90 percent of the world's vanilla bean crop. Mexico, where the vanilla orchid originated, now produces only a small percentage of the harvest. Mexican vanilla is described as creamy, sweet, smooth and spicy. The last of the four major vanilla-producing regions is Tahiti. Tahitian vanilla, grown from a different genus of vanilla orchid, is flowery and fruity, anisic and smooth.
Vanilla, with its wide range of flavor profiles, can be applied to a vast array of products and recipes. It is one of the most widely used flavors in the world, particularly in ice cream. It finds its way into sauces in Mexico and cookies in Sweden. Vanilla flavors fruits in Polynesia and perfumes colognes in Paris. Anywhere there is a need for a mellow accent that compliments sweet and savory, plain and fancy, vanilla is there.
SARAH SAYS: Vanilla accents other flavors wonderfully. When using orange or lemon extract, I like to add in vanilla extract and always follow this formula: 2 teaspoons vanilla extract to 1 teaspoon orange or lemon extract. It seems to round out the flavor and enhance the citrus notes.
QUESTION: Do extracts work just as well as flavored oils?
SARAH SAYS: Both extracts and oils will flavor your recipe. Pure oil flavorings will have a slightly stronger intensity so you may require less if your recipe calls for extract and you use oil. If a recipe calls for 1 teaspoon lemon extract, you can use 1/4 teaspoon of lemon oil TOTAL. For a big boost in flavor, I use 1 teaspoon lemon extract AND 1/8 teaspoon lemon oil in my recipes.
VANILLA BEAN (POD)
The deepest vanilla flavor is found in the thousands of tiny "caviar" seeds, scraped from the dark, sticky pulp from the inside of a bean. The best-quality beans come from Mexico, Madagascar, and Indonesia. They can be purchased from the grocery store (not as fresh), a specialty food store and online
1 vanilla bean (approximately 2-inches), halved and scraped, is equivalent to approximately 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract.
SARAH SAYS: I like strong flavors, so I add the vanilla seeds in addition to the extract called for in the recipe!
HOW TO EXTRACT THE VANILLA SEEDS
What to do with vanilla beans?: They can be dried and reused. If you have scraped the beans out in advance, they will have less flavor, but nonetheless, still contribute a rich flavor; Make vanilla bean infused sugar; Make your own vanilla extract;Infuse a liquid with the bean and seeds. Drop the seeds and the scraped pod into warm liquid, such as scalded milk or cream, and leave them to infuse for at least 30 minutes and up to an hour. Strain the pod from the liquid (the tiny specks of vanilla seeds will remain). Use the flavored liquid for your recipe; Add the scraped seeds directly to a batter. For example, add the seeds to the butter and sugar before creaming when making cookies.
What to do if the vanilla beans become hard and brittle: Milk, cream or half-and-half can be used to soften the vanilla bean; fill the vanilla bean container or any other with it. Place the bean inside. Let soak in the refrigerator for a couple of days and the vanilla bean will soften. Use the left-over liquid, now nicely scented with vanilla, for coffee or whipped cream.
LIQUID VANILLA EXTRACTS
The liquid vanilla extracts come in either dark or clear form. The dark liquid vanillas can be made from real extracts or from artificial ingredients, while clear vanilla is made from artificial ones.
Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking beans in alcohol and water for several months. The brown liquid that results is richly fragrant, unlike imitation vanilla, which is completely artificial and often bitter. In fact, you can also make your own: steep the vanilla bean in a small glass container of vodka or brandy. Use dark vanilla when making cookie dough, egg based creams, chocolate sauces and so on, which won't be affected by its dark color, since the foods themselves are already dark. There is also clear vanilla describer below.
Liquid Vanilla Types:
- Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla (Liquid): Rich and mellow. My favorite dark liquid pure vanilla extract is Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla. Made from beans grown on the island of Madagascar, it is the king of vanillas. Its creamy, sweet flavor blends beautifully with a variety of foods. It is strong, so you may try and use a little less in your recipes. See also Clear Vanilla.
- Mexican Pure Vanilla (Liquid): Classic and flavorful. Mexico, the original source of all vanillas, continues to produce creamy, spicy beans which become a flavorful and distinctive vanilla. This vanilla is able to enhance recipes with cinnamon or tomato-based sauces like chili.
- Tahitian Pure Vanilla (Liquid): Aromatic. Tahitian vanilla beans are known for their aromatic, fruity, cherry, anise-like flavor profile. Tahitian Pure Vanilla is especially symbiotic with fruit-based products such as
- Clear Vanilla (Liquid): Clear vanilla, which is artificially made, is great to use in foods that you want to keep as white as possible, such as: whipping cream, meringue, icing and so on. (Using a regular vanilla extract, which is darkly colored, will turn these light tan in color). Use 1 for 1 instead of regular vanilla. It can be found in cake decorating stores. (Along with the clear vanilla, if you use all shortening, instead of butter, you will get a whiter icing).
Powdered vanilla is an indispensable ingredient in the kitchen. It comes in a pure form and can be used without discoloring foods, such as: whipped cream, icings and egg whites. It can be added to wet ingredients without any lumps occurring; or, simply mixed in with dry ingredients alone.
SARAH SAYS: 1 teaspoon vanilla powder = 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Some uses for powdered vanilla:
If you've ever made cookies, or doughnuts, that require you to coat them in icing sugar, after they have been baked or fried, try adding in about 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered vanilla to 2 - 3 cups of sifted icing sugar. It will make the world of difference.
Next time you make lemon meringue pie, try adding a bit of powdered vanilla into your egg whites: 1 1/2 teaspoons per 3 - 4 egg whites; it adds a great flavor.
I sprinkle it on hot cereal, add it to cinnamon and sugar for cinnamon toast, sprinkle it on French Toast before serving, etc.
Known as Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste, it's pure vanilla with natural vanilla bean seeds mixed with sugar, water, and a natural thickener.
SARAH SAYS: 1 rounded teaspoon of vanilla paste equals 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Try using vanilla paste in your custard recipe—it's easy to use and imparts as much flavor as a whole vanilla bean.
Vanilla extract actually improves with age like a fine wine and keeps indefinitely.
All types of vanilla should be kept in a cool, dry and dark place, away from heat sources, high humidity levels and sunlight, which weaken their flavor. Keep the vanilla bean in a tightly sealed container, or in a sealed plastic bag to prevent moisture from entering. It's never wrong to play it safe, since humidity can get through any crack. It should keep for about a year or more.
The liquid types should be kept in their original glass bottle or plastic container they were purchased. They will keep indefinitely.
The powdered form should also be kept in a tightly sealed container, or in a sealed plastic bag to prevent moisture from entering. Powdered vanilla, in addition, should never be stored in a glass jar. Depending on what was previously stored in the jar, there might be remnant smells and the vanilla will absorb those smells, and will thus weaken its flavor.