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The Queen of Spices – Vanilla


The world’s best confectioners often make desserts using vanilla. Evenly arranged black grains in creams, mouses, sauces, chocolate attract by the unusual appearance, adding a delicate, sophisticated aroma to the dessert. Vanilla pod, vanilla extract, vanilla paste, vanilla sugar and vanillin – so many ways to acquire the fabulous scent. Gemoss Chef-Confectioner Diāna Ozoliņa tells about the main differences between vanilla products.

There is a reason, why vanilla has acquired the title of the most popular spice in the world. Vanilla is also the second most expensive spice in the world right after saffron, as its path to the store shelves is long and complicated. Vanilla pods are acquired from orchid family plants. And it’s not that the plant has the vanilla scent – the distinctive aroma of the pod is acquired only after special processing. Only special vanilla variety is used in the food industry, the pod length of which is 20-25 cm. Before such a pod reaches the kitchen, it has to undergo a complicated processing. Working with hands is important here. Unripe pods are harvested and immediately blanched (held in hot water at the temperature of 80-85ºC for 20 seconds). Afterwards they are fermented for 1 week at 60°C. Then they are dried for a long time in the shade, providing good air circulation. The pod is considered ready for use, when a special white coating has appeared on its surface (which, by the way, occurs only with extra high quality pods). The whole process can take 2-3 months.

Vanilla is cultivated from South America, Ceylon, Madagascar, Seychelles, the Comoros, the tropical parts of Réunion, some Caribbean countries (such as Jamaica, Haiti), Tahiti and Hawaii. 50% of world vanilla production now travels from Réunion and Madagascar. Mexican, Ceylon and Bourbon vanilla (or Madagascar) varieties are most commonly used in cooking.

Vanilla and its diversity

When it comes to vanilla pods, one often wonders if it is worth to use an expensive vanilla pod, if the desserts can be flavoured equally well with vanillin, vanilla sugar, paste or extract? The answer – yes, it is worth it. Multiple varieties of vanilla pods are added to exclusive desserts and cakes at the same time. To choose a good vanilla pod, pay attention to its appearance. Under no circumstances should the pod be dry, broken or open. All the valuable aromas that are rich in oils evaporate from a pod, if its open.

High quality pods should be oily, dark brown or almost black, elastic and impossible to breakable. Vanilla pods must be stored carefully packaged – wrapped in food film or foil, in glass air-tight containers and definitely in a dark, dry, cool place.

There are two ways of how to use vanilla pods:

  1. Flavouring the food with the seeds.
  2. Flavouring the food with the pod itself after the seeds have been removed.

To remove the seeds from the pod, the pod should be placed on a board, flattened with your fingers and flattened with a thin and sharp knife. Afterwards carefully cut longitudinally (without cutting the pod in half), open and carve out the seed mass using the blade. The empty pod can then be dried and crushed together with sugar or simply put into a bowl of sugar, so that it incorporates the vanilla scent.

Vanilla is commonly added to milk, chocolate, confectionery products, coffee, tea, all sorts of sweets and desserts, alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, fruit salad, etc. For some, this can be a discovery – vanilla is also added to main courses, for example, turkey, rabbit and pork stew, vegetable curry, cheese and various salads. The amount of vanilla per 1 kg of product is ¼ pod or to taste.

Vanilla and its types

Vanillin

Vanillin is aromatic substance that is found in natural vanilla (along with 200 other aromatic substances). These are white crystals that appear after drying on the surface of the vanilla pod. Nowadays it is obtained artificially. But with the help of technologies a product has been created that provides the same flavour. Of course, the scent of vanillin is pronounced, but it is not exclusive and rich in essential oils. The acceptable amount of vanillin is 1 g per 1 kg of product. Proportion with care, otherwise the product can become bitter tasting and inedible.

Vanilla sugar

Vanilla sugar is sugar with vanillin. There is also sugar with natural vanilla, which can of course be easily prepared at home. You can also make vanilla sugar yourself, using the remaining vanilla pods, sugar, and carefully blending it all into the consistency of icing sugar. Store in a sealed container and use in any recipe that requires the presence of vanilla.

Vanilla powder

In its essence vanilla powder is dried vanilla pods crushed into powder. This product has quite concentrated and intense aroma. Adding sugar in a 1:10 ratio turns vanilla powder into sugar with natural vanilla, which is quite an interesting product, especially using different types of sugar. The most common types of substances with vanilla powder available for sale are: dextrose, lactose, starch, dry corn syrup, white acacia resin, etc.

Vanilla extract

Vanilla extract is the extract of vanilla in alcohol. This product is usually quite expensive, because of the large amount of natural vanilla used to prepare it. There are also non-alcoholic extracts that are based on a wide variety of substances – sugar syrup, glycerol, propylene glycol, invert sugar, corn syrup, etc. But since vanilla extract is very concentrated, flavouring requires very small amounts of it.

Vanilla paste

Vanilla paste is dried and crushed vanilla pods, mixed with sugar, glucose or corn syrup, and also with starch, dextrose, preservatives, etc. Sometimes vanilla extract is added for the intensity of aroma.

Vanilla products can be purchased at Gemoss sales locations or through sales agents.