On the vine, vanilla beans look like healthy green beans; when picked, they are flavourless, requiring a lengthy curing process to metamorphose into the slightly shrivelled, intoxicatingly pungent black pod with the volatile seeds bursting with that floral-sweet taste we know as vanilla.
It is one of the world’s most popular dessert flavourings, but chefs are now also using it to give individuality to savoury sauces and dressings. Natural vanilla has been described as “Nectar of the Gods”, and known for its mood-enhancing powers which many claim are effective as a natural aphrodisiac.
To get the lowdown on all things vanilla, we tapped on our food experts to share their knowledge on this fragrant favourite. Be sure to also try out our favourite recipes with vanilla in them to boost your libido!
Look for moist and supple pods which are dark brown to black in colour. They should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. To extract the seeds from the vanilla bean, split the pod lengthways, then scrape out the seeds using the point of a knife.
Vanilla pods are perfect in poached pears, creamy desserts, ice-creams and some savoury sauces. And never discard the de-seeded pod, as you can create vanilla sugar by storing the scraped pods in a canister of caster sugar.
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Vanilla essence is an economical and traditional mild vanilla flavour suitable for drinks and everyday baking, such as pancakes, scones or biscuits.
The processing involves extracting the flavour by soaking finely chopped, cured vanilla beans in alcohol and water.
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Several types of vanilla extracts are available – some single origin, some containing seeds, or thickened to a syrupy consistency with the addition of glucose or glycerine.
Extracts are around two to three times the strength of essence. These are more suited to baking, as they contain little alcohol and can withstand high temperatures.
Extracts are also more pungent than essence and are perfect for whipped cream, cheesecakes or icings.
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Prized for its intensity, vanilla paste provides true vanilla flavour to desserts and baking with the convenience of spooning it from the jar.
One teaspoon of paste is the equivalent of one scraped vanilla bean and it can be used in any recipe where a vanilla pod is called for, especially in panna cotta, crème brûlée or custard desserts.
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Made from ground vanilla beans, vanilla bean powder is free from sugar and alcohol.
It can be used in everything from drinks and chocolate making to a classic meringue.
Two grams of vanilla bean powder is the equivalent flavour to one vanilla bean.
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Text: The Australian Women’s Weekly / Photos: BauerSyndication.com.au