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Vanilla is not only known for its distinctive flavour, but also for its enticing aroma. It can be used as a stand-alone flavour in recipes or to bring out the best in other sensational ingredients. Vanilla is also the base flavour for many wonderful treats and can make almost any dish mouth-wateringly delicious. It’s a popular ingredient across an endless list of all-time favourite sweet treats from homemade chocolate chip cookies to luscious buttercream frosting piped-on cakes for special occasions. Here is your complete guide to choosing and storing awesome vanilla for both home and commercial use.
Choosing The Perfect Vanilla Beans
You might be thinking why would you need to “choose” vanilla. Isn’t vanilla just vanilla? Well, although all vanilla comes from vanilla beans, not all vanilla beans are alike. This exotic, highly desirable bean is grown in many different parts of the world and, much like a fine wine, each bean has its own very specific flavour profile. As a result, to make the most of your vanilla flavouring you need to choose between Grade A and Grade B vanilla.
Grade A Vanilla Beans
As the name implies, Grade A vanilla beans are the ‘gourmet’ or ‘prime’ vanilla beans in the spice world. This is because they have a very high moisture content making them what is referred to as ‘extraction grade’ vanilla beans. The Grade A vanilla bean is plumper and easier to cut and infuses its flavour quickly throughout a dish. When sliced open, the “caviar” or paste is revealed more easily and produces those trademark dark specks you might see in your higher-end vanilla ice creams, custards, or icings.
Grade B Vanilla Beans
Grade B beans are recognizable because they are skinnier and much drier to the touch compared to Grade A beans. They are more reddish-brown in colour and often lack the oily sheen of the Grade A pods. They have about 10% less humidity than the Grade A bean, so they are harder and don’t give as easily when sliced open to reveal the caviar inside. Plus, vanilla beans with flaws will also be graded as B. In this case, you might be more likely to get some paste from the bean. Typically, Grade B beans will not produce the luscious paste you get from Grade A beans.
Mainly for cooking purposes, the following vanilla products are available:
Vanilla beans can be used to add visual appeal and flavour to ice cream and baked goods.
Vanilla extracts come in different mixes, with single-fold extract being the purest consisting of extractive material from 13.35 oz. of vanilla beans (at 25% moisture) per gallon and at least 35% alcohol by volume. Vanilla bourbon extracts are the highest standard of vanilla. The alternative uses of vanilla extract are:
- Neutralize the Smell of Paint
- Deodorize the Microwave
- Freshen up your Fridge or Commercial Fridge
- Natural insect repellent
This is a more diluted version of extract and contains less than 35% extractive materials along with other possible ingredients such as glycerin, corn syrup, sugar, and propylene glycol.
Concentrated Vanilla Extract
The concentrated extracts contain a higher “fold” or concentration of vanilla extractives by as much as 10 to 20 times depending on the type.
This flavouring is often in powder form and is made of one ounce of vanillin to every one fold of vanilla extract. This is imitation vanilla so in theory not truly a vanilla product.
This is a true vanilla product made of a mix of ground vanilla beans and/or vanilla oleoresin containing one vanilla constituent per 8 lbs. of product. Pure vanilla powder is a versatile ingredient that can be used instead of vanilla extract or essence. Sprinkle the powder directly onto fruit, waffles, oatmeal, or any other food to give it that rich vanilla flavor.
Vanilla paste is made up of concentrated vanilla extract and vanilla powder. It’s a convenient substitute to vanilla beans. The reason is that it has a strong vanilla flavour and would give the visual look of using vanilla beans with that trademark speck.
How To Store Vanilla Beans?
Purchasing vanilla beans is the best way to enjoy that pure vanilla flavour. But storing vanilla is crucial. You want to store them properly as they can dry out easily:
- Wrap the vanilla beans either in plastic wrap or wax paper and store them in an airtight container.
- Squeeze out the maximum amount of air from the container. This will prevent the vanilla beans from drying out.
- Never store vanilla beans in the fridge.
- Vanilla beans will need to be aired routinely.
- In case vanilla beans dry out, they can be re-hydrated by putting them either in warm water or milk for several hours.
By choosing and storing your vanilla beans properly you will extract the most flavour from them. Considering how expensive they are as one of the world’s most prized ingredients, you want to make sure they last. The guidelines mentioned above will help you choose and store vanilla correctly.