Vanilla, a wonderful ingredient in many fine goods from cakes to ice cream, comes from a tropical flower, the vanilla orchid.
JOE BAS TA/RODELLE VANILLA
intense labor, that vanilla, along with cardamom and saffron, is one of the world’s three
most expensive flavor or spice substances.
Vanilla is anything but plain
By Marcy Goldman
VANILLA—JUST THE word has me smitten. Doesn’t it just instantly conjure up an
image of all things sweet and inviting? Is it
because I am a pastry chef or does everyone
agree that everything with vanilla is so much
better than anything without it?
Vanilla adds an instant sense of well-being. No wonder there’s vanilla perfume,
vanilla candles, vanilla soap and vanilla
lotions. For centuries, vanilla has been used in
aromatherapy as well as medicine.
And then, of course, there is the vanilla, the
star of the baking world, where it reigns supreme
in so many recipes. It is almost as essential as
flour, butter and sugar. Indeed, vanilla is the
spine of flavor that connects the other basic
baking elements in one smooth harmony. At
the same time, vanilla is renowned for its
homey, warm, comforting appeal—something
that never goes out of style.
The Aztecs, of course, used natural
vanilla. Today, we also have the artificial variety, which is man-made and readily available
for relatively low prices. The natural form is
subject to the whims of Mother Nature, which
is part of the reason it is so special.
For example, vanilla orchids rely on bees
for pollination—no pollination means no
vanilla pod. But when it comes to an adequate
vanilla crop, bees are not always up to the task.
Fortunately, in 1841, growers discovered that
workers could pollinate vanilla orchids by
using a special bamboo stick. That was when
vanilla became a full-fledged crop and the
secret of the Aztecs was no secret anymore.
Today, pollination and harvesting aside,
vanilla is a huge but specialized industry. The
world’s finest vanilla comes from Madagascar,
Réunion (an island off Madagascar’s coast),
Tahiti, Uganda and Veracruz, Mexico (where
vanilla is said to have originated). Experts
know not only how to cure the beans but also
how to create the pure, delicious extract so
prized in baking, ice-cream making and beverages. All things considered, it’s no wonder,
due to variables of weather along with this
The art of vanilla
As with wine, chocolate and other fine
things in life, vanilla is dependent on the skill
of the manufacturer and the right equipment.
It requires the choice of the best beans, tender
care during the curing period and expertise in
processing the beans and blending the extract
with water, alcohol and sugar. Shortcuts anywhere along the way compromise quality.
Every step of the way, vanilla is a demanding mistress, but, in the end, this queenly
bean, born of an exotic bloom, yields an
In baking, take care to use high-quality
pure vanilla extract, because anything less will
bake out of your recipes, leaving but a faint
vanilla echo. Avoid artificial vanilla, which can
be intense and overpowering; by contrast, pure
vanilla extract is light, sweet and fragrant.
Now that you know the story behind
vanilla, I dare you to suggest that something
plain is just “vanilla”—for vanilla is anything
but plain. C
Marcy Goldman is the host of BetterBaking.
com and the author of several cookbooks,
including A Passion for Baking (Oxmoor
House, 2007) and The New Best of Better-
Baking.com (Whitecap Books, 2009).
An ancient flower
The leading flavor in so many sweet
things, vanilla extract starts with the carefully
cultivated, harvested and cured vanilla bean,
or pod, which comes from a tropical flower,
the vanilla orchid. There are many orchid
varieties, but only three produce this precious,
sweet cargo, first discovered by the Aztecs,
who used vanilla in their hot cocoa drinks. It
wasn’t long before other cultures began to use
vanilla, adding it to their drinks and sweet
The Costco Connection
Costco offers Kirkland Signature™ 100%
Pure Vanilla extract, made from superior
vanilla beans from Madagascar and Uganda,
in all warehouses.
COUR TES Y OF RODELLE VANILLA
FEBRUARY 2010 The Costco Connection 53