Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ingredient: Vanilla (Make your own Vanilla extract!)

Just for a moment, before you continue reading this post, close your eyes and think about Vanilla. 

No no, if all you thought of was a big blob of white in your dedicated ice cream bowl then you are not thinking with all your senses. 

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Vanilla is richly aromatic, inherently delicate, a tad bit spicy, and very pleasing to taste. It is also the second most expensive spice in the world, only after saffron. It could quite easily be one of the earliest flavours that tinkled your palate (as the kid that relished her/his scoop of weekend gluttony), but it is perhaps for this reason the most taken for granted one.

Why taken for granted? Well, because hardly anyone thinks of Vanilla as a rich, exotic flavour (which it genuinely is); it is considered common place and not gourmet enough.

Truth be told, the essence/extract bottles that we conveniently buy at the local kirana stores are to blame for our ordinary understanding of this flavour. For the most part, these are not ‘pure’ but are in fact imitations. Imitation Vanilla extract/essence is made with synthetic vanilla (which is produced from coal extracts or from glycoside found in the sapwood of select conifers) and has a tendency to leave a bitter after taste. 

To let you in on what Vanilla actually is, here are some pointers:
  • Vanilla is a fruit of a thick orchid vine called Vanilla Planifolia
  • It naturally grows in the Mexican forests, but is produced for commercial purposes in countries like Indonesia, Madagascar (contributes to 70% - 80% of world Vanilla production), and China, to name a few
  • After hand pollination, the Vanilla fruit grows into long pods or beans
  • It is these pods or beans which are then processed to extract authentic Vanilla flavour.
Vanilla Beans

All this general knowledge aside, the one question that begs to be answered is how can you experience and savour ‘pure’ vanilla?

For one, you can buy extract/essence bottles that come with a ‘pure’ tag. If this declaration is not enough for you (it isn’t for me, for sure) you can make your own Vanilla extract. Yes! The process is not complicated and the results are certainly worth the effort.

To start, you can purchase Vanilla beans at Godrej Nature’s Basket and/or Indigo Delicatessen in Mumbai. Try and stick to one variety/type of beans to get the best and purest flavour.  You will also need vodka (rum is fine too) and an air-tight jar.

Here is how you can go about the process hereafter:
  • Slice the Vanilla beans to make it three-four inches long
  • Place them in the air tight jar
  • Fill the jar with vodka
  • Shut the lid and shake shake shake!
Pour Vodka over the Vanilla Beans and shut the Lid of the Jar

You then need to store this jar in a cool dry place for at least two months and you must remember to shake the concoction once a week.
After the stipulated time, you can pour this home-made pure Vanilla extract into a small container and use it in your home baking endeavours. Also, allow the remaining to rest in the jar where it will continue to get stronger and more flavourful.
The difference in the taste and smell and the authenticity of the produce is sure to bring a bit smile on your face.

Vanilla is one flavour that has all the qualities to tease your senses and pamper them. Don’t pass off an opportunity to explore and take-in the goodness of it. 

Hilonee Furia is a compulsive thinker, an American TV addict and a fiction fanatic. She believes travel helps widen perspectives and cupcakes help solve problems. She also happens to be a freelance writer and you can connect with her here.


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