Amazing Uses of Vanilla Beans
Vanila Bean Pods
History of the Vanilla Bean
The secret of Vanilla beans (which is also called the fruit of the orchid) goes back some centuries to the ancient Totonaco Indians of Mexico, who were defeated by the Aztecs, then they were defeated by the Spaniard, Hernando Cortez and he returned to Spain with the precious vanilla beans.
In Spain for 80 years they made a special drink using these beans combined with cacao which only nobility enjoyed. In 1602, the apothecary to Queen Elizabeth I suggested vanilla could be used as a flavoring by itself, so the versatility of the bean was finally unveiled.
Where Beans are Grown and How
Today’s vanilla is grown in four main areas of the world with each area having unique characteristics and attributes. It grows in the form of a bean pod. There are over 110 varieties. The largest producer is Madagascar, the island of the west coast of Africa, and is known as Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla, the Bourbon refers to close by islands, not the alcoholic beverage.This vanilla is considered to be the highest quality pure vanilla available, and it is said to have a creamy, sweet, smooth, mellow flavor.
Indonesia is the second largest producer and the vanilla is woody, astringent flavor. These two countries grow 90% of the world’s vanilla. Mexico, where the vanilla orchid originated, grows vanilla with a creamy, sweet, smooth and spicy taste. Tahiti’s vanilla is grown from a different genus of vanilla orchid, is flowery and fruity, anisic (like anise oil) and smooth.
In order to produce the fruit the orchid flowers are laboriously hand-pollinated at a specific time of day as the flowers are open during a one month flowering period. The fruit is not permitted to fully ripen as this will cause the beans to split. Hand harvesting occurs 4-6 months after the fruit first appears. At that point the beans go through a 6 month treatment process. I guess now the rather high price of pure vanilla is understandable. Vanilla beans are expensive in retail shops at $2-$3 apiece. The pure extract is high as well. Pure vanilla has no added sugar and lasts forever, aging like fine liquor. Imitation vanilla is made from artificial flavorings most of which come from wood byproducts and other chemicals.
Choosing the Best Quality
Vanilla Pods on Plant -not ripe
Shopping for Vanilla Beans
When choosing vanilla beans for purchase should have a full rich aroma, be oily to the touch and sleek in appearance. Avoid beans that do not have these characteristics. You can purchase vanilla in whole pods, in the liquid extract form and in powder, which is ground pods, kept pure or blended with sugar, starch or other ingredients
Making Your Own Extract
You can make your own vanilla extract by chopping 3 or 4 vanilla beans into small pieces, carefully retaining all the seeds and crystals. Place them into a clean jar and add about ½ cup of brandy liquor. Let steep for 1 to 6 months. Strain and use with or without the pieces depending on what your recipe requires. The mixture keeps indefinitely. If you find the brandy flavor too strong and have more time use one split bean steeped in ¾ cup of vodka for 6 months.
Demonstration of Beans in Your Kitchen
Bourbon Vanilla Soap
Uses of the Vanilla Bean
Since vanilla has such a wide range of flavors it can be used in a vast array of products. It is one of the most widely used flavors in the world, particularly in vanilla ice cream. It is obviously used in many baked goods such as cakes, muffins, cookies, custards, frosting, and so forth. It is also used in coffee and caramel. In Mexico they use vanilla in many sauces; and the cosmetic industry uses it in perfume from Paris. We see specialty soaps and candles with vanilla aroma and it is an essential oil used in aromatherapy.
There are also medicinal uses. In old medicinal literature it states vanilla can be used as an aphrodisiac and a remedy for fevers, but these purported uses have not been proven. Since vanilla does have an increased level of catecholamine (including adrenalin) it can be mildly addictive.
In summary, the history of the vanilla orchid and beans is fascinating. The tedious process of harvesting the vanilla beans along with the curing process is also very interesting. There are hundreds of uses for vanilla beans and there are many products you can make in your own kitchen. I hope you enjoyed this hub and maybe will try to be a little creative in your own kitchen.
Did you learn something new about vanilla and will you try to work with some pods?
© 2010 Pamela Oglesby