Before, it was all about vanilla beans. Then came the vanilla extract and, as they say, the rest is history. The first ever vanilla extracts were made at apothecaries and were sold as a cure for upset stomach.
Now, these sweeties are sold at every supermarket, convenience store, gourmet shop, even off the Internet, and they come in variations that could make your mouth water: vanilla absolute, vanilla oleoresin, natural vanilla flavor, vanilla paste, vanilla blend, single fold, and double fold vanilla, even cookie vanilla!
For creating pure vanilla extract, grounded vanilla beans are mixed with alcohol and then filtered. Two days are needed to finish this extraction process. The extracts created are then left to sit from days to weeks. After such, it is filtered again to holding tanks and bottled up.
For manufacturing extracts, the Federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has several strict guidelines for it. No less than 13.35 oz of vanilla bean plus a mixture of 65% water and no less than 35% alcohol. These are all the specifications though. It is to the discretion of the manufacturer of what quality of bean, the maximum amount of alcohol, the additives that they want to add to the mixture.
When you compare the quality of these vanilla extracts, you need to compare it like whiskey – the more aged, the better. As vanilla travels through extraction chambers until your kitchen, it ages. It also ages for two years before stabilizing. Some companies even exert the extra effort to keep the vanilla extracts in storages for a year. This is done before shipping to ensure the highest quality.
Four varieties of pure vanilla extract are available: Mexican, Bourbon, Indonesian and Tahitian vanilla.
Mexican vanilla, which is made from Vanilla planifolia, has that bit of spice and kick in it. It is very smooth and creamy and is an excellent choice for desserts that are made with little or no heat.
The Indonesian vanilla variety is a good choice for dishes that need to be baked slowly or those that need to be exposed to high heat. This variety also blends well with chocolate since it neutralizes chocolate’s sweetness – a big boost to the overall flavor.
The Bourbon vanilla variety is most commonly used for extracts among the four varieties. For dishes or desserts that need the traditional vanilla flavor, this variety is ideal. This variety, like Mexican vanilla, also came from Vanilla planifolia.
Tahitian pure vanilla is different from its counterparts since this variety is naturally sweeter. Its scent can be more described as a cross between fruity and floral thus making it a good choice for poultry, wild game, seafood sauces and, most of all, fruit desserts. This variety came from Vanilla tahitensis.
Of course, these are just some of the possible matches of the extracts to dishes. It is still your palate’s taste that creates the rules in your kitchen. Don’t be afraid to experiment and enjoy the blends you make.