Ask the ex­perts: vanilla in all its glo­ri­ous forms

Our food ex­perts Fran Ab­dal­laoui and Pamela Clark de­mys­tify vanilla and its many forms.

Australian Women’s Weekly NZ - - CONTENTS -

Trea­sured for cen­turies as a nerve stim­u­lant, an aphro­disiac and a scent, vanilla is one of the world’s univer­sally loved and ver­sa­tile flavours. Vanilla beans are the long pod-like fruit of the vanilla plan­i­fo­lia (fra­grans) or­chid, the only or­chid pro­duc­ing an ed­i­ble prod­uct. 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.

Vanilla beans

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 fruit, 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.

Vanilla essence

Vanilla pro­cess­ing in­volves ex­tract­ing the flavour by soak­ing finely chopped, cured vanilla beans in al­co­hol and wa­ter. Vanilla essence is an eco­nom­i­cal and tra­di­tional mild vanilla flavour suit­able for drinks and ev­ery­day bak­ing, such as pan­cakes, scones or bis­cuits.

Vanilla ex­tracts

Sev­eral types 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 more pun­gent than essence and are per­fect for whipped cream, cheese­cakes or ic­ings.

Vanilla bean paste

Prized for its in­ten­sity, the 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. Use in any recipe where a vanilla pod is called for, es­pe­cially in panna cotta, crème brûlée or cus­tard desserts.

Vanilla bean pow­der

Made from ground vanilla beans, the pow­der is free from sugar and al­co­hol. Use in drinks, choco­late mak­ing or meringues. Two grams is the equiv­a­lent flavour to one vanilla bean.

1 5 3 4 6 1. Vanilla ex­tract with seeds. 2. Vanilla bean pods. 3. Vanilla essence. 4. Vanilla bean pow­der. 5. Vanilla ex­tract. 6. Vanilla bean paste. 2

Split the pod length­ways, then use a sharp knife to scrape out the seeds.

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