If I could be anything but human I think I would be those wonderful little seeds cuddled up in the pod of a vanilla bean. The aroma and flavour of vanilla brings comfort and warmth to any dish you use it in.
Place Of Birth and Harvesting
Vanilla comes from many places these days but the main sources are from French Polynesia, Madagascar and Mexico, especially the region of Veracruz. They live in moist warm jungles and the pod/bean comes from the vanilla orchid, one flower produces one fruit and the flower usually only opens for a couple of hours one morning. So hand pollination is a very crutial part to getting one vanilla pod. Vanilla is hand harvested and hand cured. It is either pollinated by a wonderful little creature called the melipona bee or most of the time it is hand pollinated. It takes the bean 5-6 weeks to develop and about 9 months to mature from pollination to the curing process.
How To Purchase
Fresh pods should be soft to the touch, plump, and they should not have any mold on them.
Liquid vanilla- Is processed by using water and alcohol and nothing else. When purchasing liquid vanilla it is very important to read your labels. If the label says that it has caramel flavour, natural flavours or anything else then move along until you find a more pure form. Many vanillas contain something called coumarin. It is a natural chemical compound found in many plants such as the tonka bean. It has a similar aroma and flavour to vanilla so they use coumarin as a filler to liquid vanilla because it is cheaper.
Tips and Tricks
Store your vanilla pods in a a glass jar with a tight lid.
To remove the little seeds, cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and use the back of your knife and slide your knife down the bean.
Add your little seeds to some of the liquid you are using in your recipe to separate the seeds so they can be distributed in your cake, pancakes etc.. evenly.
Do not throw the empty bean away, put it in your favorite raw sugar jar or local honey and allow it to flavor your sweeteners!
Fresh vanilla pods are like wine, they get better with age.
Real vanilla is pricey, I appreciate the cultivation process and what mother nature has made for us so that is why I am willing to pay a price for these little jewels!
How to Make Organic Vanilla Extract
I have been making my own vanilla extract for a couple of years now and I did sell it to vanilla lovers at one point, but the thing is, it's best to gift this vanilla extract to very special people, it makes it that much more special.
1 Litre of Absolute Vodka or organic vodka (if you can find it and afford it!)
20 organic fair trade vanilla beans (This is where I order my beans from The Vanilla Company)
Slice the vanilla beans in half lengthwise keeping the tips intact, so in other words, begin slicing your vanilla bean a quarter down the tip of the bean.
Remove about 1/3 cup of vodka from the bottle; once you start adding the beans to the bottle it will overfill if you don't take some out and drink it!
Add the sliced vanilla beans to the bottle of vodka, add the lid and shake gently back and forth for a minute or so. Write the date on the bottle, put it in a dark cool place and shake gently once a week. After 5-6 months you can bottle your vanilla extract, I get about 8-4oz bottles, I use a funnel and just add the extract to each bottle being sure that the whole beans do not fall in. It's going to be cloudy from the millions of beans that have come out of the pod, that's a good thing.
Many recipes out there say to leave the vanilla extract for a month or two, in my experience it is not enough time to get a great tasting vanilla extract. Wait 5-6 months, you won't be disappointed. Also, I have tried many other alcohols such as bourbon, rum and whiskey. I didn't like any of them, they were all too over powering, so, simplicity is key here.