Vanilla- we love it in our pies, eat it in our muffins, and enjoy it in our morning coffee. But what exactly is vanilla? And more importantly, where does vanilla flavoring come from?
If you’ve ever enjoyed a cinnamon roll or purchased a gourmet latte from your local coffee shop, then chances are you’ve had a tablespoon- or two- of vanilla.
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In both treats, you’re given a taste of vanilla extract, which are mini droplets coming from the vanilla bean.
Vanilla beans and vanilla extract come from the Vanilla orchid, Vanilla Planifolia, which originated in Mexico and is now cultivated worldwide.
It is said that vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world.
For American shoppers, a 1-ounce bottle of pure extract could cost $4 dollars or more, and with many desserts and baked goods requiring 1 to 2 teaspoons, you’ll be headed back to the store after just four (4) uses.
16 ounces are currently running buyers $25 dollars or more.
WHERE DOES VANILLA FLAVORING COME FROM?
Vanilla flavoring and extracts originated in Mexico; however, due to an irresistible global demand for it and a more efficient production method, vanilla production has expanded to South America, France, and islands such as Madagascar.
In fact, most of the vanilla extract you see in stores comes from Madagascar and Indonesia.
According to the OEC, Madagascar exported over $651M* worth of vanilla in 2019, with most of it heading to the United States and France.
Within the same year, Indonesia exported over $81.7M* worth of vanilla to the United States and Canada.
Followed by Mexico, which was only able to export $1.12M* worth of vanilla in 2019 due to extensive tension in the area.
HOW DO YOU USE VANILLA FLAVORING?
Vanilla flavor is versatile and is used in various dishes, baked goods, and desserts.
For example, we use two (2) tablespoons of vanilla syrup in our beautiful ombre pink-colored Starbucks Pink Drink.
As well as 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract in our Butternut Squash Casserole, which is an immediate crowd pleaser!
WHAT DOES VANILLA FLAVOR TASTE LIKE?
Mexican vanilla flavor has a sweet, smoky taste that gives off buttery notes. It is highly sought after for muffins and pastries and works for seafood dishes. Sadly, Mexican vanilla flavor is hard to find in stores.
Indonesian and Madagascar vanilla flavors have less of a smokey taste, but its butter notes with fruity undertones pair well with pies and cheese dishes. Both types of vanilla flavors are easily found in stores and online.
HOW TO TELL WHEN VANILLA FLAVORING HAS GONE BAD?
The best way to tell when vanilla flavoring has gone bad is by checking the expiration date; however, the extract itself will give you clues.
For starters, if your vanilla extract gives off a strong alcohol smell, then it may be time to bid it farewell.
Most extracts found on supermarket shelves have alcohol at their base.
Alcohol is used as a preservative and helps retain the extract’s potency for a longer period.
But, you should not be able to smell the alcohol within pure extracts unless it has been sitting for a long time- or has gone bad.
To figure out which one it is, give your vanilla extract a good shake.
Often if the extract has been sitting for too long, it will separate from the base (think oil and vinegar).
After giving it a few good shakes, it should return to normal.
If your extract is still giving off a strong alcohol aroma, then it’s time to say goodbye.
Trying to use vanilla extract after it has expired will leave your dish with a strong alcohol smell that will be hard to cover up with sugar or creams.
HOW IS VANILLA FLAVORING MADE?
Today’s vanilla flavoring is made from an extraction of vanilla seeds from the pods of vanilla orchids. One of the main reasons vanilla is so expensive is due to the strenuous task of extracting it, as vanilla cannot be harvested by machines or other commercial equipment.
Once the vanilla seeds are removed from their pods, it is grounded and turned into liquid. Pure vanilla extract has a sweet fruity scent that is enjoyed all over the world.