Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia)
Vanilla is the fruit of a climbing orchid which is native to Central America.
The taste of vanilla is delicate, exotic and creamy. Vanilla has the ability to enhance the flavour of other ingredients it’s added to.
While fresh vanilla pods have no aroma, once fermented they develop a fragrant, memorable aroma which is rich and mellow.
Vanilla is the perfect partner for all things sweet. The whole pods, seeds, flavoured sugar or vanilla essence/ extract can be used in ice cream, poached fruit, cakes, tarts and biscuits. Interestingly, vanilla can also be used to flavour savoury foods like lobster, mussels, chicken, root vegetables and in Mexico it’s used to flavour black beans. Vanilla loves chocolate, coffee, apples, peaches, strawberries, cream, milk and eggs and marries with cardamom, chillies, cinnamon, cloves and saffron.
Vanilla vines are grown around tree trunks primarily in Madagascar, the Seychelles, Indonesia, Puerto Rica and its native Mexico. The flowers only open for one day and originally were only pollinated by bees and humming birds which are native to Mexico, however now days the plant is artificially pollinated. The plant bears fruit after 3 years and the yellow, unripe pods are harvested when they are 13-20cm long. They are then blanched in boiling water and left to sun dry until they are dark brown and wrinkled.
Aztecs had sophisticated methods of fermenting vanilla and were thought to be the first civilisation to combine the delicious flavours of vanilla and chocolate. The Spanish discovered Mexico in 1520 and exported vanilla and chocolate back to Spain where it grew in popularity. Vanilla comes from the Spanish word ‘vainilla’ which means ‘little pod’.
Vanilla has been used throughout history as a stimulant and aphrodisiac and also to flavour other medicines. Folk medicine throughout the ages have used it to aid with fevers, lack of appetite, insomnia and as a nerve stimulant.
Facts about Vanilla
There are over 100 species of vanilla however only three are cultivated commercially.
Research was conducted that shows that sniffing vanilla pods can provide the same stress relief as eating chocolate…..and cure chocolate cravings too.
How do I make vanilla extract?
Chop and place vanilla beans in 35% alcohol for 2 weeks. Filter the beans out and bottle.