Before vanilla extract was sold commercially in the early 1800’s, 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, Mexico’s 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 vanilla’s 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 person’s 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.