Vanilla: everything you need to know

Vanilla is the favorite spice of most of the chef. Why? Because vanilla gives more flavor, more depth to any sweet dish. It is like using salt for a salty dish: it is essential.

Vanilla, what is it, really?

Vanilla is the vanilla tree blossom. It is a species of orchid (Yes like the one in your living room!), originating from Central America.

Green vines of vanilla grow by clinging to trees. Other trees serve as a support to grow. The fruit of this orchid is the pod. It is also the only orchid whose fruit is edible.

Where is it from?

Until the 19th century, Central America was be the only producer. Until then, all attempts to produce the pod outside its home lands have failed. Indeed, at this time we didn’t know about the fundamental role of a certain species of bees that allows the fertilization of plants.

It was in 1941, on the island of Reunion that a young slave of 12 years managed to reproduce this process of fertilization manually. Even today, this process is used!

Today we find mainly 3 types of vanilla.

  • Bourbon vanilla, which comes from Madagascar, Réunion or the Comoros Islands. It holds the highest rate of vanillin, which gives it its scent.
  • Tahitian vanilla has a lower vanillin content and its aroma is aniseed.
  • Finally, vanilla banana from Martinique, Guadeloupe, tropical America and Guyana is less used, because its aroma is much lighter.

Why is it so expansive?

First of all, it comes from far away. But that’s not all. It is necessary to wait 8 months after the fertilization to harvest them manually. Then, vanilla before arriving in our kitchen in the form of dried pod undergoes several treatments.

  • Scalding: The pods are scalded.
  • Steaming: The pods cook a dozen hours and take their brown color.
  • Drying: 6 weeks of drying.
  • Trunk: The pods are put in trunks for several weeks.
  • Calibration: The pods are sorted according to their quality.
  • Conditioning: They are grouped and tied together with a string. The boots are wrapped in paper and then stored and ready for sale.

What different forms can we find?

  • Pods: Sold in a glass tube or plastic cases to retain its properties.
  • Powder: Powdered reduced pod for use in your sweet or savory preparations. A teaspoon is the equivalent of a pod. Beware of sweet versions.
  • Liquid vanilla extract: Used as a replacement for the pod.
  • Vanilla sugar: This sugar contains at least 10% natural or artificial vanilla. It can partly replace the sugar in your recipes or be sprinkled directly on your sweet preparations.

How to use it?

Split the pod in half lengthwise. With the tip of a knife extract all the black seeds inside and add them to your preparation, as well as the split pod. At the end of preparation, do not forget to remove the split pods.

The good idea, make your home made vanilla sugar!

There are several methods.

The most tasty: Blend a pod with blender. Mix it with a kilo of sugar in a closed jar. Let stand a few days before use.

The most economical: In a jar filled with sugar squeeze 3 pods. They will perfume your sugar for a long time. When the fragrance fades, split the pods and squeeze them into the sugar. Replace the pods with new ones.