If you are one of those who thinks vanilla grew in little brown bottles on the grocery shelves, don’t feel alone in your thinking. You have lots of friends in your corner.
And it’s okay.
Just dont’ be using that imitation stuff. It only hints at being vanilla. Once you experience the full fragrance and flavor of vanilla, you will never. go. back to that imposter.
Vanilla pods are the fruit of the vanilla orchid, usually Vanilla planifolia, which is the main species of orchid cultivated for vanilla. The pods are picked green and then subjected to a lengthy process that involves drying, curing and aging, which can take several months to complete.
The three most popular types of vanilla beans are: Tahitian, Mexican and Madagascar ( also known as Bourbon). Each has its own distinct flavor profile. Vanilla Garlic blog has a good description of various vanilla bean varieties.
Second only to saffron, vanilla is the world’s most expensive spice. If you can get your hands on an actual vanilla bean, you should. Be prepared for sticker shock when you find one, however.
You should experience the full aroma and flavor of a real vanilla bean as often as you can. There is so much difference between it and a bottle of imitation vanilla extract.
However…that’s now always possible or practical or budget friendly, is it? But just for once, do it. You are so worth it.
So what do you do with it once you have it?
1. Split the pod lengthwise. Hold it in place with one hand while carefully cutting down the center of the bean lengthwise.
2. Scrape out the seeds using the top of the knife. The seeds should stick to the knife. You may want to scrape the bean twice to get all of the vanilla seeds. Those seeds are the “caviar” of the bean.
3. DO NOT THROW OUT the bean. Get a jar with a tight-fitting lid, fill it with a cup or two of sugar and stick that bean hull in it. Whenever you remember, give that jar a good shake. Use the sugar in your coffee or tea or wherever you might enjoy a little vanilla sugar.
Or, make vanilla salt using the same procedure as for the vanilla sugar.