Vanilla

Vanilla

By
Anna Bergenström, Fanny Bergenström
Contains
20 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
ISBN
9781742702070
Photographer
Fanny Bergenström

The scent of vanilla …

... Is both subtle and intense. Opening the wrinkled, dark brown pods releases a multitude of aromas from the thousands of small seeds. Vanilla is such a wonderful ingredient, one of our most cherished flavours, and is used in sweets, baked goods and desserts all over the world. Sometimes the precious seeds are added to savoury dishes as well, often to accompany shellfish, which is considered a particularly good match with vanilla. We use vanilla often, but so far only in desserts, pastries and such. A few vanilla pods, ground organic vanilla powder and a large jar of homemade vanilla sugar are all staples in our pantry, as no artificial substitute can ever compare to the unique, mellow flavour of true vanilla…

Vanilla planifolia is a pale yellowish-green orchid originating from Central America. The plant grows wild on tall vines in the rainforests of Mexico. The Mayans and Aztecs used vanilla for centuries, among other things, for flavouring cocoa. The Spaniards eventually took both vanilla and cocoa back to Europe, where the new, exciting flavours became a huge hit. The French used vanilla to flavour sweets and tobacco, and in the 19th century they took the precious spice to their colonies in Réunion, Mauritius and Madagascar, where most vanilla comes from today.

The vanilla genus comprises a hundred or so varieties, but the species V. planifolia is the primary source of true vanilla. Fresh vanilla pods are bright green and have no vanilla scent at all. Extracting the lovely aroma is a lengthy process, which explains why vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world, after saffron. The vanilla orchid blossoms only for a single day, and must be pollinated by hand with a small bamboo stick that same day. Several months later the pods are harvested, and then cured through an extensive drying and sweating process, followed by months of storage in airtight boxes. Once matured, the unique flavour has developed and the pods have turned a deep, dark brown. Finally, the vanilla pods are graded according to quality and length, before being packaged and sealed, and ready to be enjoyed in our kitchens.

True vanilla and artificial vanillin

Bourbon vanilla, or Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla, Vanilla planifolia, true vanilla, is primarily grown in Madagascar. Bourbon vanilla has narrow pods, with creamy, sweet flavour notes. Mexican vanilla is derived from the native V. planifolia plant.

Tahitian vanilla, Vanilla tahitensis, is grown in Tahiti and other islands in French Polynesia. Tahitian vanilla has thicker, sturdier pods and a slightly floral, fruity aroma, which also makes it popular for perfume making.

West Indian vanilla, Vanilla pompona, has a slightly lower content of vanillin compounds, and, as the name suggests, it is grown in the West Indies as well as in Central and South America.

Ground vanilla powder, or vanilla bean powder, consists of finely ground whole vanilla pods. You only need a small amount to get lots of lovely vanilla flavour.

Vanilla paste is a thick, syrupy paste based on true vanilla. It is very useful for baking and in desserts, with a much rounder flavour than vanilla extract.

Pure vanilla extract is based on true vanilla infused in alcohol. To be on the safe side, though, always check to see whether it’s true or artificial vanilla.

Vanillin is the major flavour compound in the vanilla pod. Synthetic vanillin can be produced from wood and coal, and is commonly used in vanilla essence and artificial vanilla sugar.

A few vanilla tips

When buying vanilla, choose soft, moist pods. Store the pods in an airtight jar, ideally in a cool, dark place to preserve the flavour. A quick way to make a mild vanilla-infused sugar is to fill an airtight glass jar with caster sugar, pop in a couple of vanilla pods and store it in the pantry. If you want to make true, homemade vanilla sugar, you will find an easy recipe.

To liberate the seeds, split the vanilla pod lengthwise and scrape out the tiny black seeds onto a chopping board. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and quickly rub the vanilla seeds and sugar back and forth with a blunt table knife to separate the seeds, making it easier to blend them into a panna cotta, crème caramel or sauce.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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