- Food and Cooking
A Taste of Vanilla
The World's Favorite Flavor
The delicious taste of vanilla has been enjoyed by people now for hundreds of years. The vanilla bean had helped to revolutionize baking since the time it was introduced on European shores. Although it is often referred to as a plain, boring choice, vanilla is still the number one most popular flavor in the world. It is used to enhance the taste of everything from chocolate to custard, and of course is used extensively in baking. The flavor comes from the vanilla orchid, also known as the ice cream orchid. Or more specifically, the pod or bean of the vine.
The worldwide crop of vanilla is rather small so the competition for the best crops is fierce. Buyers travel all over the world looking for the best beans to purchase, oftentimes using methods of skullduggery that would not be out of place in a spy novel. The pods of this flower have at times been so valuable that armed guards were posted around the plants to deter thieves. It is the only orchid that produces anything of agricultural value. Madagascar and Indonesia have taken over from Mexico as the leading importers of Vanilla.
When the Aztecs ruled in central Mexico and the surrounding areas, vanilla and the cocoa bean were demanded of the other tribes as tribute. With it the Aztecs would produce a mixture called xocolatl, a frothy chocolate drink which included ingredients like ground corn, peppers, and honey, along with the vanilla and cocoa beans. Sounds more like a soup really, but the Aztecs treasured it. Montezuma and his nobles drank xocolatl like it was going out of style. However Europeans didn't taste it until the Conquistadors brought it back from Mexico.
The wonderful smell of vanilla is used for aromatherapy, and is said to even have health benefits such as calming stomach ailments and relieving stress. One study even showed patients who were wearing vanilla scented patches lost weight and had less cravings for food then the other patients who did not have the patch. Many feel it's simply the pleasant smell of vanilla that is the main ingredient to the benefits, others think it is perhaps something we have yet to understand.
Really can you think of a better smell than vanilla? There are vanilla scented candles, essential oils, and soaps. The vanilla oil does well mixed with numerous other aromatherapy blends. It's even been used as an ingredient in potions to persuade more amorous intentions. Vanilla extract is even used as an insect repellent. Rub it on your arms and legs when you go out into the woods, and it is supposed to keep most bugs at bay.
Vanilla Related Products
Great ice cream maker for that homemade ice cream.
Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
There is nothing better than homemade ice cream. Sure you can just go to the market and buy some, but it's just not as good. It tastes so much better when you make it yourself. It's like going to the market and getting can spaghetti, and saying "well it's almost as good as real spaghetti". Okay perhaps it's not that much of an extreme, but I think you get the idea. You need regular milk and heavy cream, not the one percent or half and half you put in your coffee. I seem to remember that the old method with all the rock salt etc. was far more difficult to make, but when it was finished it was well worth it.
How To Make Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream
Madagascar Vanilla beans for your ice cream or extract.
How to Make Vanilla Extract
Making vanilla extract is relatively easy, however it does take a bit of time. All you really need is some vanilla beans and a bottle of vodka. No, no you don't drink the vodka....Well maybe a sip....but you'll want to keep the rest for the extract.
You open the beans pod long ways with a knife, and put them in a glass bottle. Add the vodka until it's a little more than half full. The time part enters after you have the beans in the vodka. At that point you need to tuck it away in a cool, dry place for a while. About 3 months should do. And that's about it. Pretty easy to do.