Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Vanilla…..a fruit, spice or flavoring?

vanilla_bean Well if you don’t know, this email will settle it.  Vanilla Ice is a hip hop artist from the 1990’s.  But seriously, vanilla is a vine, a flower and a fruit!  Really, a fruit…I would have guessed a “bean” if asked.  The Vanilla vine produces flowers which are pollinated and produce “little pods” of fruit that we call the vanilla bean.  Coincidentally the Spanish/Portuguese word for “little pod” is “vainilla.”  

This Wednesday at 4PM we are releasing our Vanilla Wheat at the Yak.  I wasn’t sure if the chefs had vanilla already in the kitchen, which would save me a trip to the store, so I asked.  Half our staff speaks Nepali and several of our kitchen staff speak little English but fluent Mexican Spanish, so when I asked for “van-il-la” I was responded with shrugs and blank stares….so I used my Babel app on my iphone to translate it from English and asked for “vba-een-ee-ya" (which is the best I can pronounce “vainilla” in Spanish) and this time I received smiles and eyes that lit up… “aaah, vainilla!!!”  I was so elated that I communicated my desire that I almost missed the next sentence…..”no….no vainilla.”   Dang, no app for running to the store and procuring vanilla.

To understand more about this flowering vine, here are some trivia points:

  • The vines can grow as long as 35 meters!
  • The flower is referred to as an Orchid but is technically a dehiscent capsule (I like Orchid better)
  • originally cultivated in Mexico on the Gulf Coast
  • the Aztecs referred to it as “tlilxochitl” or “black flower” (don’t ask me to pronounce that one)
  • the vanilla seed is actually flavorless and can’t germinate without a the presence of an unique fungi
  • the vanilla flavor we are all familiar with is a “phenolic compound”
  • other phenolic flavors that you are familiar with: smoky, medicinal, and clove
  • Vanilla that comes from Madagascar is called Bourbon Vanilla (over half the world’s production comes from here)
  • Mexico now only produces around 2% of the world’s production
  • Artificial vanilla is usually made from natural polymers in wood as the result of the paper/pulp making process

And uses for vanilla or vanilla extract:

  • Ice Cream (duh), pudding, cake, frosting, cookies, muffins, (okay, desserts..we get the idea), eggnog, etc
  • Vanilla Porter is increasing in popularity as a beer style (never heard of Vanilla wheat before, but it tastes really silky smooth)
  • use the extract to deodorize the microwave or refrigerator
  • add it to a glass of milk for a faux vanilla shake/smoothy
  • add a bit to your coffee or tea
  • bug repellant
  • perfume
  • old medicine books say “aphrodisiac and aroma therapy”
  • Candles/air fresheners/incense
  • Vodka flavoring

Wow, and I thought car air fresheners only came in Vanilla or Pine Tree.  My favorite use for vanilla is actually my French toast recipe that contains vanilla amongst other secret ingredients.  I’m sure it would be good in pancakes or pancake syrup too.   What are other favorite uses of vanilla?

1 comment:

  1. Vanilla Coke! Although it's probably fake, it's super good.