I couldn’t not talk about vanilla, one of the most ubiquitous spices. Its extract can be used in cakes, cookies, pies, cupcakes etc., but also with meat, shellfish and fish. There are many varieties of vanilla, but Mexican, Tahitian, Indonesian and Bourbon (not related to the liquor) are the main ones.
Vanilla originated in the country to our south, Mexico, and figures in recipes for Mexican recipes for carrots, flan, shrimp and chicken. It was first noted in chronicles of a Spanish expedition to central Mexico in the 1520’s, where ground vanilla beans flavored the royal chocolate beverage of Emperor Moctezuma’s court, tlilxochital. Check out the recipes for
Vanilla Balsamic Chicken at
and Mexican Braised Chicken with Vanilla: Pollo al vainilla (Karen Graber) at
Vanilla extract is made by macerating/percolating chopped vanilla beans in ethyl alcohol and water for approximately 48 hours. After aging for several months, the mixture is filtered. The FDA specifies that pure vanilla extract contain 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon during extraction and a 35% alcohol/65% water mixture. The resulting amber liquid is clear and richly fragrant.
You probably don’t know that almost all the extract from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean is now synthetic, and not pure vanilla extract. Natural vanillin is a substance intrinsic to the vanilla bean, but artificial vanillin is made from wood-pulp by-products. Vanilla flavoring is a blend of pure and imitation vanilla, so check the packaging carefully and look for pure vanilla extract.
And don’t forget to inhale its rich, wonderful aroma the next time you open a bottle of vanilla extract.