Vanilla Extract is a popular product made from the pure extracts of vanilla (also known as "vanillin") seeds, which are pressed from the vanilla beans themselves. Vanilla extract is used in cooking and baking, but it is also considered a key ingredient in some Western desserts, particularly baked products such as cookies, cakes, brownies, and ice cream. Although the name "vanilla" may give one the impression it's a type of flavored sugar, vanilla extract should not be confused with white sugar, which is manufactured in a completely different way. Vanilla extract has a rich, intense flavor that is often likened to a caramel taste.
Vanilla Extract is mostly sold in bottled form and comes in two types: whole and vanilla-infused alcohol. Vanilla extract is very concentrated, so it should be mixed with very hot water while hot. The alcohol used in vanilla-alcohol is distilled from alcohol produced by fermenting sugar. This makes vanilla extract higher in tannin than most alcoholic drinks.
Vanilla Extract can be extracted from either the beans or the seeds of the vanilla bean. The beans are easier to work with because they have more of a focus on flavor. Seeds are generally left in the ground for much longer, allowing the aroma to spread more deeply into the ground. The bean itself is very low in tannin, however, so it will take a longer time for the aroma to reach the consumer.
It's usually easier to obtain pure extract than to get the beans because you don't have to wait for them to break down. You can also purchase the beans, crush them, heat the extract to boiling, and then add it to your recipe right away. The disadvantage of this method is that you usually need to substitute the vanilla extract for baking powder and baking soda, which may alter the texture of the final dish.
All three varieties of vanilla beans are used in Italian cooking, although heilala vanilla beans are more popular. Heilala beans are the only variety that contains all three major varieties of the spice-he shou lu, shou mian, and shou Wu-hi. The high quality of the beans is what makes heilala vanilla extract such a popular spice. The pure vanilla essence adds an intense flavor to pastas, breads, desserts, sauces, salad dressings, pasta dishes, beans, cheeses, seafood, vegetables, and other foods.
Pure vanilla extract is extremely bitter, so it's not recommended for use in high volumes or in combination with other spices. You should keep the extract in the refrigerator for up to a month, or take a small handful per day. If you use the extract for any kind of cooking, ensure that you let the jar fully dry before using it. Keep the bottle out of the sun to preserve its flavor and avoid exposing the jar to direct heat.
How to Get a Great Taste From Your Vanilla Beans
Vanilla beans, more popularly known as vanilla, are a sweet aromatic spice commonly found in sweet desserts. Vanilla flavoring has been used for hundreds of years, dating back to the earliest recorded recipes. Vanilla beans themselves are species of fungi, and the bean itself is named after the species from which it is harvested (Vanilla posum). Vanilla is a common spice extracted from orchids of the family Vanilla, most commonly obtained from stemmed pods of the Mexican genus Orchidina. The Latin name for the species is Vanilla flavipes.
Vanilla beans are best stored in a dry, cool place that has no air. An airtight container that will retain the heat and moisture from the beans is necessary. To pick the beans, shake the pod open while they are covered with dark damp cloth. If there is any water inside the pod, remove it before picking. The dark spot on the outside of the bean is where the flavor is extracted. The flavorless outer shell of the bean is called the seed.
Vanilla beans contain a large amount of sugar, so it is best to store them in an airtight container to preserve the flavor. When the beans are purchased, they should be separated into two piles based on the type of vanilla beans. One group should have dark chocolate chips, and another group should have light chocolate chips. Light chips contain less sugar than dark chocolate chips, so they will retain more of the original flavor of the beans. To extract the delicious essence of vanilla, place the beans in a double boiler or the microwave oven. Boil the beans for approximately one minute to remove most of the water, then let cool.
Vanilla flavor can also be extracted from whole vanilla beans, although the process used to do that is slightly different. Any time you can buy whole vanilla beans in bulk, it is better for your health to use them. To extract the flavor, boil the beans for approximately three minutes in boiling water. Once cooled, separate the seeds from the bean, pick out the seeds, and discard.
When the beans are dry, they can be cracked open to reveal their aromatic contents. This is the key to making the best vanilla flavor extracts. Some people use the seeds to make their own almond milk and coconut milk products. Others use the bean like raisins to create their own chocolate beverages. Either way, extracting the great vanilla aroma from beans is really a matter of personal preference.
The process described here is just one way to extract the unique aroma from whole vanilla beans. If you want to go even further, you can try making your own chocolate sauces with crushed beans. There are many recipes online for such recipes. Just remember to keep your beans in an airtight container to retain their great aroma!
How to Use Vanilla Extract in Cooking
Vanilla extract is simply a condensed, purified solution made from the purest, most concentrated vanilla extracts (and other ingredients) percolated in a semi-cool, heated vessel. It's considered a vital ingredient in all natural desserts, including chocolate cakes, cookies, brownie, and cupcakes, and custards, ice cream, and pudding. Vanilla extract has been a staple of classic sweet treats and recipes for over two centuries. Vanilla flavoring became a popular flavoring for beverages, mainly in the 19th century. The earliest recipes were based on evaporated steam from hot water extracted with sugar or starch from vanilla beans.
Over time, we've learned to enjoy vanilla's subtle flavors without the heavy, overwhelming aftertaste of concentrated flavors like vanilla ice cream and cakes. However, the rich, intense flavors found in the more traditional recipes have always retained their firmest flavors, from intensely sweet to mild, without being too creamy. These recipes require vanilla extract in their purest forms - meaning they must not be diluted with water. As you can imagine, as food flavor trends and tastes have evolved over time, so have the methods and ingredients to use to extract vanilla essence.
Most recipes for vanilla extract call for either vodka or brandy, also known as whiskey. Many mix a small measure of distilled or light alcohol (your preferred flavor choice) in with the vodka to create a more intense flavor. This method works well for many recipes, but it has several drawbacks. Because alcohol dilutes the food and drinks, any leftover alcohol is also diluted, sometimes dramatically. Also, because distilled alcohol is very cold, adding any extra water to a cold bottle of liquor can dramatically reduce the shelf life of the product.
Fortunately, there are other methods to make vanilla extract that don't involve alcohol. There are two main varieties: the dried bean and the bean pod. The dried bean is basically the same thing as vanilla bean powder, except it's dried in a different way. Dried beans are ground down into a fine powder, much like you would make dust for a flour mill, then mixed with oil or vodka to increase the volume. They're available at most health food stores and should last for several years, though the added alcohol will surely diminish their potency.
The second type of this extract is the bean pod. These are easy to find, but the quality is somewhat questionable. In order to extract this natural vanilla essence, you must soak the beans overnight and boil them in vodka or brandy for an hour or so. This allows you to extract the natural flavor from them, which should be easier to gauge than the dry powder form mentioned above. Still, this takes more than just dropping the beans in a bottle and stirring to blend.
To save money and not have to do all the mixing by hand, try buying a product that will replace the actual vanilla flavor in your recipes. A good, inexpensive option is a vanilla extract plug-in that you can plug into the computer. These plug-ins usually come with three or four different recipes to test, allowing you to substitute just the ingredients for a fraction of the cost. Some plug-ins also let you know exactly how much to add to the recipe when necessary, allowing even the cook to keep costs down.