June 08, 2016
Vanilla is the 'underwear of baking', an invisible essential. It supports, balances, mellows and gives depth to dishes. It can be its own star in ice cream, custard or crème brulee or an enhancer for chocolate, coffee, nut and fruit flavors.
Vanilla essence and vanilla extract are often talked about as if they are the same thing – the bottles might look similar, but what’s inside is not.
Vanilla essence is a manufactured liquid that tastes a bit like vanilla but contains little or no real vanillin. There are a number of ways a synthetic vanilla flavor can be made.
Natural vanilla flavor is often derived from pine bark or cloves (National Geographic reported on vanilla flavor being derived from the anal excretions of beavers – ewwww! Fortunately whilst castoreum can be used this way, it's not really common)
Imitation vanilla is usually derived from crude oil. Both naturally derived essences and synthetic flavors require additional additives, such as coloring, sweeteners and preservatives to make them look, smell and be able to be used like the real thing. The outcome of these synthetic concoctions are usually thinner, lighter in color and with a weaker and less complex flavour than real extract yet it’s estimated that 98% of the world’s vanilla products are imitations.
In genuine vanilla extract, much of the amazing fragrance and intense flavor comes from vanillin – a molecule found in vanilla beans. Vanilla beans usually contain around 3 – 5% vanillin however climate, curing and variety impact on the potency of the vanillin so high quality vanilla beans naturally produce more vanillin and so the type of bean that is used in the extract process will make a difference to the end result. Vanillin extracted from vanilla beans is $2000 - $4000/kg compared with synthesis using biotechnology $1000/kg or synthesis from petrochemicals $15/kg so extract will also cost more.
Because vanillin has over 300 organic compounds real vanilla extract has a far more complex and rich taste than synthetic versions. Real vanilla extract contains the complete spectrum of oils, aromas and flavour compounds found in real vanilla beans.
The ‘fold’ of vanilla extract refers to extract strength. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) says that vanilla extract should contain 100gm of vanilla bean extractives per litre of liquid. So that’s ‘single fold’. Double fold contains 200gm of vanilla bean extractives per liter and triple fold 300gm. The FDA allows use of glycerine, propylene glycol, sugar (including invert sugar), dextrose and corn syrup so there’s still quite a lot of variation in what can be in your real extract – reading the label is always a good idea.
Many people do use essence where a recipe calls for extract and vice versa however there are a few things to consider. Extract is a much stronger, richer flavour, so if the recipe calls for essence and you’d rather use extract you may like to use a little less – unless you’re totally up for a strong vanilla flavor. And vice versa, if the recipe calls for extract and you only have essence on hand you may like to add a touch more. For those who like to go for a natural, chemical free option – of course, go for extract every time.
I recommend Heilala Vanilla single fold extract for domestic use as one teaspoon is equivalent strength to flavor of one vanilla bean. It’s also one of the few extracts on the US market that’s made without sugar or corn syrup. Heilala Vanilla grows organic Bourbon variety vanilla beans which are cured by hand for maximum vanillin production. The extract is batch brewed in stainless steel vats where diced vanilla beans are carefully soaked in cold water and alcohol to produce a range of concentrates. This unique cold extract, slow percolation method draws out the delicate aromatics and sweet, creamy and complex flavors of the high quality Heilala beans. Heilala Vanilla extract comes in 50ml and 100ml bottles (the 100ml contains a whole vanilla bean so the beautiful vanilla flavor is amazing to the very last drop).
The alcohol content of extract is at least 35% of total volume. For those who avoid alcohol, glycerine is a safe option for alcohol free extracts which cater for the halal market. Another excellent alternative is the Heilala Vanilla Bean Powder. This powder is 100% vanilla beans with no alcohol, sugar, chemicals or additives and it's loved by Paleo, Halal, vegetarian and alcohol free consumers.
Heilala vanilla beans are organically grown in virgin soil on coconut husk trellis and dried in the Pacific sun. It's no wonder Heilala has been named the best grade in Asia Pacific because of the freshness and quality of the beans. Not only has establishing the Heilala Vanilla plantation in Vava’u provided much needed resources to the community, in doing this, Heilala is the only vanilla company in the world with complete ownership of product from vine to pantry. The full trace-ability from source to pantry eliminates the need for unnecessary handling and you can be sure of 100% pure vanilla every time.
Making your own vanilla extract home is really easy.
You will need:
Store at room temperature out of direct sunlight (the pantry is ideal) and your extract should have a shelf life of 2 – 3years. Homemade vanilla extract makes great gifts especially if you’ve chosen a cool bottle.
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