Using Vanilla In The Kitchen
Anyone who has done even a minimal amount of baking knows that vanilla is used in many dessert dishes and sauces. In fact, vanilla is one of the worlds most popular, and at the same time, most expensive spices. This interesting spice is the dried fruit of the vanilla planifolia plant an orchid which grows on vines. Native to Mexico, and once a favorite spice of the Aztecs, vanilla is now mainly produced in Madagascar and Indonesia.
This bean pod shaped spice is about 7 inches long and dark brown when dried. Interestingly enough, the fruit itself does not have any taste or aromatic properties until it is dried in the sun and then dehydrated. For use in the kitchen, vanilla can be used in pod form, vanilla powder, or as a bottled liquid called vanilla extract. Anyone who has used vanilla in cooking knows that a little bit goes a long way. Popular in pastries and baked goods, it can also be a great compliment to seafood.
When choosing vanilla beans for use in the kitchen, pick ones that are plump and full of seeds. Make sure they are very dark - almost black and that the are flexible - not stiff or rigid. Beans can be store for 6 months in a tightly sealed container under refrigeration. The extract can be stored indefinitely and the taste actually improves with age. The powder should be kept sealed in a cool, dry place.
Vanilla beans are often used whole, and can be stirred into sauces, teas, and other liquids. Interestingly enough, you can reuse them in this way. You need only rinse them, dry thoroughly, then store, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator for re-use.
While most cooks are more familiar with vanilla extract, the vanilla bean can be wonderful for cooking and will actually give better flavor. It can be a bit expensive at about $2.00 per bean, it can also be worth it. To use a vanilla bean for cooking, cut it in half and scrape out the pulp inside. Add the pulp and bean to the liquid part of your recipe and let steep for about 20 minutes.
Vanilla can be used for anything in the kitchen - not just baking. It is a flavor enhancer so you can use it to enhance any interesting foods. How about adding it to fresh fruit? Maybe a little vanilla with your cereal would make for a great morning taste? Why not try vanilla on ice cream? When using vanilla extract, though, be sure to buy only the true vanilla and pass up the cheaper bottles labeled “imitation vanilla” as it will not give you the true vanilla taste. Although the real stuff may be costly, remember a little bit goes a long way. So a bottle should last a long while.