Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron in the world given the extreme labour required to cultivate it. It is a part of the orchid’s family. Its discovery can be traced back to Mexico. From Mexico, it has travelled to all parts of the world. Worldwide there are only a few places that grow this spice a major cultivator being Madagascar. Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Karnataka grow vanilla in India.
Vanilla grows in the form of a long and lean stick that is dark brown, almost black in colour. The beans extracted from these pods are real vanilla that can be added to various recipes. Initially, the plant was pollinated naturally by native bees and hummingbirds of Mexico, later ways were discovered to breed the orchid without them making its production shoot up in other countries. It grows best near the equator in the tropics with warm, humid conditions in rich humus soil.
Vanilla has different forms available to add its delicious twist to all different types of food.
- Vanilla extract: this is a combination of vanilla bean and alcohol. It is less processed and has a strong flavour. The amount used is very small.
- Vanilla powder: grinded dried beans are converted into a smooth powder.
- Vanilla bean: it is essentially vanilla in its purest form.This is the long dark bean pod. The tiny seeds are acquired by slicing it. It adds a decadent flavour to dishes.
- Vanilla Paste: it is basically the mixture of vanilla extract along with beans that is ground into a fine blend.
- Vanilla essence: this is similar to extract the only difference being it is more processed. Also it has less of the vanilla hint.
Making extract at home!
We can easily make vanilla extract at home. It assures you pure extract, moreover, gets rid of the worry to use an artificial one. All you need is 2 ingredients and 8 weeks to prepare. Although this may be time-consuming the end result will leave you hooked. Take a vanilla bean, using a sharp knife carefully slice the bean pod lengthwise. Now you have the pod open, gently scrape all the minute seed inside using the tip of your knife. Put these vanilla beans inside a jar or container and submerge them in vodka. Give it 8 weeks stored at room temperature and finally, you will have the best extract out there. Alcohol is replaceable with glycerine in the recipe.
Given the high price of pure vanilla artificial synthetic flavourings have come into existence. Therefore, These synthetic flavours are relatively way cheaper. It is made from synthetic vanillin which is obtained from wood pulp. Vanilla beans of good quality are plump and soft. To store them keep them at room temperature in airtight containers that will keep them fresh and prevent them from drying out. Furthermore, refrigerating beans is a big no as it would lose all of their moisture and flavour.
Utility of vanilla:
Additionally, the usefulness of vanilla is not limited to cooking. It also has a variety of health benefits. It is helpful in alleviating stress and anxiety. Its aroma can be used in the form of candles, incense sticks, diffusers and essential oil for the same. It also has physical health benefits like boosts the digestive system, respiratory conditions and a healthy heart.
Vanilla goes well with a wide flavour profile range. Vanilla along with chocolate is an evergreen combination whether in cakes or cookies. Coffee is another delicious partner of it; that balance the bitter coffee. Caramel and vanilla as a sauce together is yet another luxurious combination.
A delightful recipe :
An easy peasy recipe that is also great for the upcoming winter. It is Vanilla and almond hot cocoa. It takes about 10-15 minutes in total. The ingredients required are 1 cup sugar, 2/3 cup baking cocoa, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 8 cups 2% milk, 2/3 cup water, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1/2 teaspoon almond extract. In a large saucepan, combine the sugar, cocoa and salt. Stir in milk and water. Next, cook and stir over medium heat until heated through. Finally, remove from the heat; stir in extracts. Lastly, serve in mugs, with marshmallows if desired.
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