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The exotic life of vanilla

There's something rare and magical about the elegant fragrance and exotic flavor that vanilla provides, especially in culinary use, and it is well worth going that extra mile to buy the best that you can.

Nowadays, vanilla can be used to describe anything from soap to soup to sugar. Many connoisseurs will use words to define the complex flavors of vanilla such as woody, floral, spicy, chocolaty, creamy and even fruity. It is no small wonder that vanilla is prized for its depth of fragrance and taste and why it is used in so many amazing applications.

Vanilla pods, commonly called vanilla beans, are the long, thin, dried pods of the vanilla orchid, the only type of orchid that produces the pods. The pods are green when they are hand-picked and then put through an extensive process of drying, curing and aging. This lengthy procedure can take up to several weeks to complete, which is why vanilla beans are quite expensive to purchase second only to saffron. But like saffron, you only need a very small amount to create an immense flavor in the dish you are preparing.

Vanilla originated from the Mesoamerica region and is now grown in the Bourbon Islands(Madagascar), India, Indonesia, Tahiti, Papua New Guinea and Uganda. Here's an interesting bit of history, after the Spanish conquistadors had invaded Mexico, they returned to Spain from their long voyage bringing back with them the delicate vanilla orchids, but they did not realize that the Melipona bees, which were found only in Mexico, were needed in order to pollinate the flowers. So the Spanish were deprived of the coveted vanilla pods it just proves that you can take the pod out of the country but you cant take the country out of the pod. However, as much as things have changed since then, one thing still remains the same, vanilla is a labor-intensive business.

One of the most common forms of vanilla is the vanilla extract.The best vanilla extract is the double fold, which has twice as much vanilla giving it more flavor.The extract is made by macerating the vanilla beans in an alcohol-based water solution that is then aged. Make sure that you buy pure vanilla extract, even though it is more expensive than the imitation vanilla extract. You will be glad you did, as the imitation products are hugely inferior in taste and quality. And always store your vanilla in a cool, dark place. For best results, when using vanilla extract, do not add it to very hot mixtures as the heat will diminish the flavor.

Our gourmet-grade vanilla beans are mainly from Indonesia and Madagascar; they possess a deep, full-bodied flavor and fragrance, which is well appreciated by American vanilla connoisseurs. If you love the aroma and taste of vanilla, then you are in for a real treat with our quality Organic Vanilla Beans. The best beans are pliable enough to bend without breaking and their color is a dark brown to almost black. Dissolve the inner scrapings in liquor for baking, or for creating dessert sauces or as an aperitif.

Vanilla can also be used for making great tasting meat rubs, especially for pork. Other culinary uses of vanilla can be found in vanilla sugar, vanilla salt and vanilla powder. Only recently, we developed a vanilla pepper recipe using our most popular vanilla salt for making delicious caramel syrup. So if you love to experiment in the kitchen, then by all means try using a little vanilla pod or extract in some of your recipes.

How to split and scrape the pods:

Split the pod lengthwise into two halves with a dull-bladed knife by starting at the hook-like area of the pod. Try not to touch the tiny, delicate seeds with your fingers, but apply firmness by running the tip of the knife down the length of the pod. Keep repeating this until the pod is completely halved.

As you scrape the pods, use a dull-edged knife or the edge of a spoon by running the edge down the length of each pod, using firm pressure.

Now you have the seeds for your recipe. But don't throw away the pod. You can add the pod to the liquid for further flavor.

I hope you will love and enjoy using vanilla as much as we do.