Before vanilla extract was sold commercially in the early 1800ís, what people at that time used were pure vanilla beans. When vanilla extract was made available, it was first found in drugstores at that time (apothecary stores). Vanilla extract had a sweet but very strong flavor and was used to relieve upset stomachs.
Today, vanilla extracts are found in just about every food shop. From supermarkets to groceries to specialty shops and even online stores, vanilla extracts are being sold there. And besides the extract, other variants from the vanilla beans are also available anywhere.
Origin and History of Vanilla Extract
Vanilla comes from a plantation in Mexico. In the ancient times, Mexicoís Totonac tribe were attributed to be the best producers of the finest vanilla. Even then vanilla beans were already used to add flavor to their dishes. Spanish explorers first discovered this and brought some samples back to their homeland and from there, its use was spread all over Europe. French vanilla was grown and developed in the mid-19th century and by the late 20th century, Indonesia was also producing their own variety.
Properties of Vanilla Extract
Vanilla contains many compound, most predominant of which is vanillin, which has hydroxyl and methoxybenzaldehyde, It also contains piperona, as well as other components, which brings out vanillaís unique odor.
The extract comes from the bean of the vanilla plant, which is picked off from the flowers. The beans are cured and dried before its extraction. Vanilla extracts are made by permeating vanilla beans and ethyl alcohol, combined with water. A little heat may be needed to extract the juices but ideally, the whole process must be maintained in low temperature so that this preserves the flavor. For some, a mix of varieties can bring about a better flavor and aroma, thus creating a unique taste. But for other companies making this product, they stick to just one variety.
Extraction takes about two days but the extracts are left in the tank for very long weeks before they are bottled. Extracts may also contain caramel, corn syrup or stabilizers, among other ingredients. Even as vanilla has a natural sweet flavor, about 25% of sugar is still added into the mixture. This serves to fortify the alcohol that is mixed with it. Those kinds that have no sugar or any other additives mixed in them are the premium variety and can be sold quite expensively than usual.
Vanilla extracts age through time, so even as they are ready for bottling, some companies may prefer to store them first before they are sold. Once bought and stored in pantries and cabinets at home or at restaurants, they can last up to two years without refrigeration.
Varieties of Vanilla
Pure vanilla has about two hundred fifty components that make up its distinctive aroma and taste. And because it grows in many parts of the world, each bean varies from the other in taste. This is because of the differences in the condition of the environment where vanilla beans are propagated affects the flavor and aroma of the product. That is why no vanilla could possibly taste better than the other variant. The taste would all depend on where the personís preference lies.
There are four common kinds of vanilla extract and the most popularly used all over the world are Bourbon vanilla and Tahitian vanilla.
- Mexican vanilla
Mexican Vanilla comes from planifolia plant stock found only in Mexico. It is characterized as a spicy but creamy variety. It is best used for dark chocolates or ethnic cuisines.
- Bourbon vanilla
Bourbon vanilla also comes from the same plant stock in Mexico, but the difference is, the cuttings are taken to other locations and propagated there. One of these locations is France, where the name of Bourbon is derived from. Despite its name, Bourbon vanilla does not contain any whiskey. It is best used for ice cream or baked goodies. Bourbon vanilla is the most common variety used all over the world.
- Indonesian vanilla
Indonesian vanilla is extracted and processed in many ways. It can taste like Bourbon vanilla, but it can also have its unique flavor. Sometimes, the beans may be processed immaturely, so that it emits a woody and piney flavor. It is best used for food that may be slow-baked, like cookies. When mixed into chocolates, it provides a boost in flavor.
- Tahitian vanilla
Tahitian vanilla is from the same plant stock (planifolia in Mexico) but the cuttings are taken to Tahiti. There, it seems to be mutated to grow into a different kind of species that looks and tastes differently than Bourbon or Mexican vanilla. It is characterized as having a fruity taste similar to liquorice or raisins. It also has a floral fragrance. Tahitian vanilla is especially best for desserts with sauces or even food like poultry.
Uses of Vanilla
In the old days, vanilla was regarded as an aphrodisiac because its aroma and flavor provide a rich stimulating effect. It also serves to calm the senses and evoke something sensual. Today, it is mostly used as a food ingredient.
But with modern advancements, vanilla extracts are now also added to many hair and skin care products. Because it seems to have that soothing effect, many skin care products have vanilla components that supposedly helps in muscle circulation and sooths the nervous system.
Vanilla extracts may also be used for the following:
- Vanilla extract removes the odor from inside the refrigerator. Wiping down the insides with the extract seems to do the trick.
- Vanilla extract removes strong smell lingering inside the microwave. Heating a mix of vanilla and water in at least one minute inside the microwave oven can leave this smelling better.
- Vanilla extract covers the smell of fresh paint where house repairs or renovations are done. Just mix one teaspoon of vanilla extract into the paint and it will make your house smelling delicious.
- Vanilla extract may be used as perfume. Just dab a small amount into each wrist, and you will find yourself smelling delicious. The scent may also provide a relaxing effect on you.
- Vanilla extract repels bugs. Dilute a teaspoon into a cup of water and rub this onto your exposed skin, to act as insect repellent.