This month’s Spice Guide is a bit of a different one, it’s all about vanilla beans! They are one of the more expensive ingredients but they really do make a difference, so let’s learn more about them and how best to use them!
History of Vanilla Beans
Vanilla has been cultivated in Mexico for centuries before the French then transported it to Mauritius in the 1800s. Nowadays Madagascar is the largest producer of vanilla in the world, followed by Indonesia. Madagascan vanilla is generally known as Bourbon Vanilla, and the other most common varieties are Mexican, Tahitian and West Indian Vanilla.
It is one of the most expensive spices in the world, predominantly because its production is very labour intensive as it requires hand-pollination. The beans are then cured for 6 months to bring out the intense, vanilla flavour.
The beans need to be stored away from light and heat, and to get the best flavour out of them they should be used fairly promptly. The best beans should be dark brown-black in colour and still soft and pliable. When you’re ready to use them split the bean with a sharp knife and scrape out the seeds. One vanilla bean is roughly the equivalent of 3 teaspoons of vanilla essence, so substitute accordingly!
Vanilla Bean Flavour Profile
Vanilla has a floral, warm flavour and a fairly strong scent. It’s the world’s most popular aroma and flavour, and for good reason!
Vanilla beans are used predominantly in sweet foods, like baked goods, custard, ice cream and tarts. It also pairs excellently with stone fruits, figs, strawberries and apples, as well as cream and eggs. It can even be used in savoury dishes like seafood, root vegetables, chicken and black beans. It is also a key ingredient used to boost the flavour of other foods like caramel, chocolate and coffee.
You can also use the vanilla bean pods after scraping out the seeds, so don’t throw them away. Pop them in some caster sugar to make vanilla sugar, or infuse milk, cream, rum or vodka with them.
Common Spice Pairings
Vanilla pairs excellently with all kinds of flavours, but its best spice pairings include:
This Cherry-Vanilla Soda Syrup recipe sounds absolutely delicious, and is on my to-do list for when cherries are in season again!
- 3 cups pitted and halved cherries
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped
- 2 cups water
Stir together all ingredients in a saucepan and bring to the boil then simmer for 30 minutes on medium-low heat. Strain and leave to cool, then use to make cocktails or flavour soda water. Delish!