Recently I received a comment on my writings from my blog “From The Heart” a teaching blog dealing mostly upon faith (find it at http://www.chefk.wordpress.com).
Here is the comment “I believe what you said made a lot of sense. However, think about this, what if you added a little information? I am not suggesting your information is not good, but what if you added a title that makes people want more? I mean The Suddenlies of God Are For You | From The Heart is kinda vanilla.”
So I thought it would behoove us to take a look at vanilla and see if it is just the ordinary, plain, unassuming seasoning that is implied about the writing.
Costly: Next to saffron, vanilla is the most expensive spice in the world with pods costing 50-200 dollars per pound depending on the quality. The finest and most expensive of this edible orchid originating in Mexico is the Madagascar pod. Its expense comes from the fact that workers must care and harvest the each pod by hand. Each is loving inspected daily and only harvested when tip begins to split, hand picked and carefully sun-dried by day then wrapped in wool by night so the pods sweat and the best flavor is developed.
Why a spice? In culinary terms both herbs and spices come from edible plants, herbs are the fresh part of the plant while spice is the dried part i.e.: root, stalk, bark, seed or dried fruit of the plant and is almost always dried, very rarely fresh. Both herbs and spices add flavor to the dish, however herbs are more subtle while spices are more intense flavor. Vanilla extract see notes below.
Good vanilla beans should be dark, long, wrinkly and moist. A quick look and most people would reject them believing that exact would be a better way to go. However the finest grade of vanilla (gourmet) is well worth obtaining. Use a vanilla bean in foods such as ice cream, custards, cake batters and sauces, slit the bean lengthwise down the center using a pointed knife, scrape out the tiny seeds and add them directly to your mixture. You can also split the vanilla bean in half and drop the entire pod into a cooked mixture such as custard, and remove before serving. Vanilla beans can often be used several times depending on how strenuously they have been used. Simply rinse the bean, dry it and store for future use. You can also take a bean that has already been used several times, rinse and dry it, and add it to your sugar or coffee jar to impart a delicate flavor, place the vanilla bean in the jar with the sugar or ground coffee and keep in a moist free dark environment for at least 30 days.
The finest beans (actually the fruit) are grown as I said in Mexico or Madagascar, but good quality beans also come from Tahiti, India, Sri Lanka and Uganda. The cream of the crop is called Bourbon vanilla (no whiskey here) the name belongs to the “House of Bourbon” a royal European family that held thrones in Spain and Italy but their stronghold was France.
Gourmet Grade Beans
Typically sold in singles or pairs, with rich dark color, silky sheen, and high moisture content. These beans are very expensive, and are best used “in the raw.” when ripened. Further processing is not the purpose of these beans. A white crystalline substance can sometime be found upon the pods and valued because this is natural vanillin.
Grade I Beans
Approximately 18cm long, with even coloring and flexibility. These beans make the highest quality extract.
Grade II Beans
Approximately 9cm long, and a good deal thinner than grade 1, grade 2 are more brittle than grade 1 beans. These are commonly used for making extract.
Grade III Beans
These beans are otherwise known as “chops” or “cuts.” They are beans that have imperfections such as over ripening, warts, blemishes, inferior color, etc. These are the most common grade used for industrial extract production.
Pure vanilla extract is made by macerating and percolating vanilla beans in a solution of ethyl alcohol and water. Double and triple strengths are available at higher costs. It takes 250 components obtain to the flavor profile of vanilla. The extract solution must contain 35% alcohol and a minimum of 100 grams of vanilla beans per liter of solution.
Artificial vanilla extract, contains no vanilla but rather is derived from Ester of wood rosin, which comes from pine stumps, in other words wood pulp. It is synthesized from guaiacol, a coal tar derivative; or produced from lignin, a byproduct of the paper industry. Caramel coloring and flavoring is added to disguise the unpleasant odour and taste of the wood by product. This common ingredient that is often labeled as ” flavoring” it also found in lemon lime soda, cake mixes, cereals and candy.
Another “natural flavoring” is Castoreum, extracted from the beaver anal glands once found in artificial vanilla (but claimed no longer used) however it is used to make artificial raspberry found in: artificially raspberry flavored products such as cheap ice cream, gelatin, candy, fruit flavored drinks, teas and even yogurts.
More Than Great Taste
The vanilla bean and pure extract have a flavor which nothing else can duplicate, in fact for the baker vanilla is second only to salt in use as a seasoning. When one looks at the flavor profile of vanilla (over 250 components) we can readily see that vanilla exists for one simple purpose, to complete what it is being blended within. A custard without, boring, with perfection. Baking is never complete without its addition, it is the life of basic ice cream.
Why in addition to our common idea’s, vanilla is used as an air freshener (the most common), repels insects (mosquitoes, black flies, and ticks hate its odor) a quick relief from a minor burn. The extract will freshen up your fridge from unpleasant smells, remove the paint smell of the air and even deodorize the microwave. I use it in making my wife’s perfume. Why a vanilla patch worn while dieting will actually help you lose weight as it sends signals to your brain tricking your brain to think you have eaten and you are full, (maybe it thinks you just had dessert) but eating two scoops of French vanilla ice cream won’t help with the weight loss with or without the patch. Vanilla extract has an array of vitamins and minerals including the B-complex and calcium, magnesium, potassium, and zinc for good health. The essential oils have the ability to help in cancer treatment by reducing the free radicals within the body. Vanilla has the ability to act as a mild tranquilizer and sedative, an antidepressant, and helps to fight inflammation from fevers. As aromatherapy patients report it has a calming, soothing effect. It can even be successfully used to combat mild sleep disorders.
Stick With It
So if vanilla is all this and so much more I think I will stick with it and remain vanilla in my thinking and writings. I will let the other flavors catch up. Like vanilla, my writings may need you to think on what I have given, for in your thoughts and if you ponder upon them and study for yourself and decide your course of action, perhaps then they have helped you to complete the tasks of a victorious life, and my little bit of vanilla extract has to be a good thing.