Vanilla - The Queen of Spices

Vanilla is the fruit of the vanilla vine, a member of the orchid family, which wraps itself around trees and produces beautiful white flowers.

The plant requires a lot of attention - manual fertilization using a thorn or pin, careful harvest, initial scalding in hot water, followed by steaming and later drying and curing - such that two years may elapse before the valuable pods are packaged for sale. Due to all of this work, prices may rise above 500 euros per kilo, although bourbon vanilla currently stands around 150 euros a kilo.

World production is estimated at between 1,800 and 2,000 tonnes of which 80% comes from the north-eastern corner of Madagascar. Due to the relative scarcity of quality product, most commercial preparations use derivatives, such as synthesized vanillin or artificial ethyl vanillin, which have similarly artificial flavor characteristics.

"Choose fleshy and bright" - olfactory and gustatory tests -

Better vanilla beans are large and long (18-20 cm or 20-22 cm) - black, fleshy and shiny. The more mature the bean, the more intense its aromas. Vanillin, the compound from which most flavor and aroma comes, is mainly found in the woody pod, not in the seeds (as is often thought.)

The pods should be flexible enough that they can be tied into a knot. A "Gourmet" pod should be a deep black color but not necessarily oily. "Frosting," revealing vanillin exuded in the form of small crystals, is a positive sign. The pod should be soft but not sticky (too wet). The pod should neither be too dry, brittle or greyish.

Slicing a Bourbon vanilla bean gives off the strong characteristic scent of vanillin plus buttery and slightly smoked woody aromas.

In the mouth, with a pinched nose, one perceives sweetness, a mild acidity and some bitterness. Upon releasing the pinch, a delicate, pleasant aroma of sweet hay and licorice should superimpose itself, while in the mouth, bitterness and even some astringency should continue.

If the pod is good, you can keep without a problem in cool, airtight packaging. Pods can even be frozen, taking precautions during reheating.

Product overview: Vanilla and vanilla products