Vanilla fragrans
syn: Vanilla planifolia
Fam: Orchidaceae

Next to saffron and cardamom, vanilla is the world’s next most expensive spice. Growers are known to “brand” their beans with pin pricks before they can be harvested, to identify the owner and prevent theft. Vanilla is native to Mexico, where it is still grown commercially. Vanilla was used by the Aztecs for flavoring their royal drink xocolatl - a mixture of cocoa beans, vanilla and honey. Cortez brought vanilla back to Europe in the sixteenth century, after having observed Montezuma drinking the cocoa concoction. It has many non-culinary uses, including aromatizing perfumes, cigars and liqueurs. Europeans prefer to use the bean, while North Americans usually use the extract. Substances called “vanilla flavor” don’t contain vanilla at all, being synthesized from eugenol (clove oil), waste paper pulp, coal tar or ‘coumarin’, found in the tonka bean, whose use is forbidden in several countries

Spice Description
The flavoring comes from the seed pod, or the ‘bean’ of the vanilla plant. The prepared beans are very dark brown, slender, pleated and about 8 inches long. The bean is tough and pliable, quality vanilla having a frosting of crystal called givre. The crystals contain the active ingredient ‘vanillin’ that produces the characteristic fragrance and is produced during the process of induced fermentation. These pods are called ‘fine vanilla’. ‘Woody vanilla’ is shorter, lighter colored, uncrystallized, stronger and slightly bitter. All beans contain thousands of tiny black seeds. Vanilla extract is also available and, if of good quality, is identical in flavor to the pods.
Bouquet: highly fragrant and aromatic
Flavor: rich, full, aromatic and powerful.
Madagascar and Mexico making the best quality. Indonesian and Tahitian vanilla is weaker and considered inferior.

Where to Buy Vanilla
Most specialty food shops carry vanilla beans. Look for oily flexible pods. There are a number of places to purchase online, though we recommend

Preparation and Storage
Vanilla extract is made by percolating alcohol and water through chopped, cured beans, somewhat like making coffee. Vanilla extract is very powerful, a few drops sufficing for most uses. Vanilla bean is a bit more time consuming to use than the extract, but imparts the strongest vanilla flavor without the alcohol of extract.
To flavor a liquid base for crème sauces, puddings, ice creams, etc., allow one bean per pint to steep in the liquid by boiling and allowing cooling for an hour before removing the bean. This can be repeated a few times if the bean is washed after use, dried and kept airtight. Ground vanilla can also be used, but use half as much and leave in the liquid. Many recipes call for slitting the bean lengthwise and scraping out the tiny black seeds. Airtight storage is necessary, otherwise the aroma will dissipate. A good way to store whole vanilla is to bury it in sugar. Use a jar with a tight-fitting lid that will hold about a pound of sugar, burying the bean so that no light can reach it. After 2 -3 weeks the sugar tastes of vanilla and can be used in coffee or in other recipes and the bean can be removed for other uses and returned to the sugar after cleaning. Keep topping up the sugar.

Culinary Uses
Vanilla’s mellow fragrance enhances a variety of sweet dishes: puddings, cakes, custards, creams, soufflés and, of course, ice cream. Classic examples include crème caramel, peach Melba and apple
Charlotte. Vanilla flavor is detectable in many chocolate and confectionery items and several liqueurs such as Crème de Cacao and Galliano.

Copyright © 2007 Librandi Products Rockford, IL
Copyright © 2008 LME Company Rockford, IL