25 January 2006

Primer: Vanilla Part Two

Oi...it's been a week.

- About half an hour after I got home from voting on Monday night, an ambulance came up for my elderly neighbour. Because she doesn't speak English (she lives with her daughter who speaks a heavily accented, broken English) went out to make sure things were as okay as possible -- the v. cute EMT said everything was fine and they didn't need the granddaughter's number. I visited last night -- the grandmother slipped and fell, she may have injured a tooth (I couldn't understand very well), but the entire right side of her head is very, very swollen. Poor thing...I think I'll buy her some grippy socks so she can shuffle around in a safer manner.

- Election results...we've got a new party in power and if history has anything to teach us, Canadian minority governments last an average of 18 months.

- Spent six hours in emergency with The Fussy Eater--he had a little accident at home; won't go into details, but he's okay and will probably spend the day sleeping. I'm checking in on him every so often (no concussion, otherwise I'd poking him with a stick every hour)... Didn't get into my little bed until 5:30 this morning. I have a very wonderful manager who understands and is letting me take the whole day off to recuperate.

Oi...it's been a week. and it's only early Wednesday afternoon.

Right...back to the primer. My last post briefly (well, not so briefly) addressed vanilla's history and the curing process. This one looks at varietals, buying and keeping, usage and subsitutions...and it's another long post...

Bourbon/Madagascar Vanilla:
The generic term for V.planifolia that’s grown in Indian Ocean islands, “Bourbon,” comes from Ile de Bourbon, (Reunion’s former name) and not from a type of whiskey. Seventy-five per cent of the world’s Bourbon/Madagascar vanilla supply comes from Madagascar and Reunion. Its flavours are rich and balanced and it has a robust aroma. Because it’s the preferred type for extracts, its *this* flavour most of us think of when we think of vanilla ice cream or cakes. It can be used in both cold and cooked preparations.

Indonesian Vanilla:
Because some farmers harvest pods before their phenolic flavour profile has developed, vanilla from this area varies in quality: it can range from deep and full-bodied to light and woody. Some Indonesian farmers also use a short-term curing process that imparts a harsh, smoky flavour. Indonesian vanilla is often blended with synthetic or Bourbon vanilla. It is best used in cooked preparations.

Mexican Vanilla (V. planifolia, V. fragrans):
Its flavour is smooth, creamy and spicy with delicate top notes and its aroma is distinctive, fruity and winy aromas. It can be used in hot dishes, but it is really good in cold preparations or those that need a short cooking time.

West Indian Vanilla:
West Indian vanilla is a lower grade than the Bourbon/Madagascar or Mexican beans and has a naturally low vanillin content. Since its taste is too poor for culinary uses, its mostly used to make perfumes. Some extracts using West Indian or Mexican vanilla also use coumarin (derived from the tonka tree, both Canadian and US officials classify it as a toxic substance).

Tahitian Vanilla (V. tahitensis):
Tahitian vanilla is the product of V. planifolia stock that was crossbred with V. pompona (a variety that is normally used in the perfume industry) during the early 1880s. It doesn’t have as much natural vanillin as Bourbon, but flavour comes from heliotropin (anis aldehyde), giving it a sweeter and fruitier taste, reminiscent of cherries or raisins. It has a lovely, sweet floral scent. Even though its pod is fatter than Bourbon vanilla's, it doesn’t hold as many seeds. It is best used in cooked foods such as sauces, compotes and desserts; it also works well with meats.

Finding and keeping
Whole vanilla beans:
When you buy whole vanilla beans, they should be very dark brown to black in colour, moist, pliable and fragrant. Store them in an air-tight package, protected from extreme heat, light and humidity. Stored properly, vanilla beans can keep for up to 18 months.

An alcohol-water mixture is passed over pieces of chopped, cured vanilla beans for several days before the solution is then aged to develop flavours. Because vanillin and other flavour components are more soluble in alcohol than in water, a lot of alcohol is needed to carry flavour content; US law states that vanilla extracts must have at least 35 per cent alcohol. Good quality extracts are low in sugar, have a rich, perfumed smell and are amber-coloured; when storing them, they should be kept in a dark place.

Two types of extracts are available: natural and artificial—read the label carefully to get what you want. Artificial extract can be made from, among other things, coal tar extracts and remnants from the paper industry (no wonder it tastes so awful). About 90 per cent of vanilla flavouring used in the US is artificial while about 50 percent of vanilla flavouring used in France is artificial. Please be aware that colourless extracts are most likely artificial.

Vanilla essence:
Vanilla essence is the distilled or concentrated natural vanilla extract or an artificial facsimile; it is much stronger in flavour than regular extracts.

Natural vanilla powder:
This is can be made from several sources, including powdered vanilla extract, mixed with starch and sugars; givre or finely ground dried vanilla beans. Natural vanilla powder can be bought from specialty cake decorating supply shops and gourmet markets. Keep vanilla powder in a dark cupboard, away from heat.

Vanilla Salt:
Vanilla salt is a blend of French Fleur de Sel with vanilla bean pieces. It can be used in sweet and savoury dishes. Like all salts, it’s probably best to keep this in a cool, dry place.

Flavour group: sweet
Weight: whole, average bean: 25 cm/3-4 g
Suggested quantity for 500g white meat: 1 bean; 500g carbohydrates 1bean 1-1/2 tsp extract

Plays well with: allspice, crystallized angelica, cardamom, cinnamon, cassia, cloves, ginger, lavender, lemon verbena, lemon myrtle, liquorice, mint, nutmeg, pandan leaf, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, wattle seeds.

Complements: ice cream, dessert cream, cakes, biscuits (cookies), sweets, liqueurs, seafood such as lobster, scallops or mussels, chicken, pork, root vegetables.

Whole beans are used to flavour creams, custards and ice creams. A cut bean that has been infused in syrup or cream can be rinsed, dried and reused. Cut beans can be laid over fruit to be baked.

Using Vanilla
It’s important to remember that vanilla’s flavour resides in two different parts of the bean: the sticky substance in which the seeds are embedded and the pod’s wall. You can scrape out the seeds and use them directly in your cooking, but the pod must be soaked for some time to extract its flavour; soaking the pod in a solution containing alcohol will help you get more of the flavour out. Extracts are best used at the end of cooking since any period of high heat can cause some aroma loss. As such, it’s probably best to use vanilla beans or vanilla powder for dishes requiring long cooking or exposure to high heat.

One 25cm bean:
2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract (added at the end of cooking)
1 dessertspoon vanilla powder (better for baking)
8-12 drops vanilla essence
1.5-2 tablespoons imitation vanilla extract
3 tablespoons vanilla liqueur

Vanilla essence (not what the British refer to as "essence")-2 drops:
2.5 cm vanilla bean (split with beans scraped from the pod; add early to allow more flavour to be extracted)
0.5 teaspoon vanilla extract
o.5 teaspoon vanilla powder (better for baking)
0.75 teaspoon imitation vanilla extract

Pure vanilla extract/British vanilla essence-1 teaspoon
7.5cm vanilla bean
1-1.5 teaspoon homemade vanilla extact
3-5 drops vanilla essence
0.75-1teaspoon vanilla powder
1.5 teaspoon imitation vanilla
1 tablespoon vanilla liqueur

Vanilla liqueur (generic term for a sweetened, vanilla-flavoured French spirit)- 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons crème de vanilla
2 tablespons vanilla vodka
2 tablespoons Tuoca
2 tablespoons Licor 43

Vanilla powder 1 teaspoon
1-1.5 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 dessertspoon imitation vanilla extract
4-6 drops vanilla essence

Vanilla salt 1 teaspoon
1/8 tsp vanilla powder + a couple of pinches of sea salt

Vanilla sugar: 1 c (200g)
1cup (200g) sugar + 0.5 teaspoon vanilla extract

Selected reference list for Vanilla Parts One and Two:

Davidson, Allan. The Penguin Companion to Food. London: Penguin, 2003.

Joachim, David. The Food Substitutions Bible. Toronto: Robert Rose, 2005.

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking (Revised Edition). New York City: Scribner, 2004

Norman, Jill. Herbs and Spices: The cook's reference. London: DK Publishing, 2002.

Rain, Patricia. Vanilla: The cultural history of the world's favourite flavour and fragrance. New York City: Tarcher/Penguin, 2004.


Related post:
Primer: Vanilla Part One


Anonymous said...


First of all, I'm totally with you on the whole election issue!

Secondly, I hope Fussy Eater is doing ok ...

Thirdly, what an incredibley detailed and informative post on vanilla! I had no idea there were so many varietals ... I noticed that you listed Patricia Rain's book in your bibliography. I've been thinking of buying it and you have now convinced me!!!

You have also now given me the incredible urge to make rice pudding which is my very favourite dish with vanilla!

sailu said...

10/10 for an excellent post.Absolutely wonderful info on vanilla (1 & 2 parts).Thanks for putting it all together..never knew there was so much about vanilla..:)and its all so interesting.

Anonymous said...

Incredible post, Jasmine. So informative and accessible that I want to bookmark it for reference!

Best wishes to the Fussy Eater (and your neighbour) for a full and quick recovery.

Boo to Harper! All that consoles me is that it's a minority government. And a small minority, at that.

Again, well done with the vanilla post!

Anonymous said...

What a hugely informative post - I'm printing to put in my recipe notebook! Thanks, Jasmine!

jasmine said...

Thanks for all the support on these posts guys! I'm hoping to do one or two vanilla posts a month--I'm sure I'll cover things that you'll think is common knowledge, but, well...

Re: election--I scream whenever I hear "PM-elect" -- gah.

Re: Neighbour-- I haven't been over since Tuesday, but I have seen her around--she seems to be recovering.

Re: Fussy Eater--he is recovering. He was at the office yesterday with the help of paracetemol...a little dopey (dopier??--JUST KIDDING), but is doing well.


Anonymous said...

Jasmine, thank you very much for the great post, I've learnt lots of things as a vanilla lover.

Anonymous said...

Hi...ditto to the comments of others. The only thing missing is where does one purchase a Vanilla fragrans (sp.) plant....