Your online resource

for all things culinary

HOME Search this Site All Recipes Special Sections Articles &  Resources Kitchen Equipment Food & Health Growing Food Directories

Missing an Ingredient ?




Information about Vanilla plus Vanilla  Recipes Collection


Ingredient of the Month 

Scroll down for Vanilla Recipes




Click here for previous Ingredients of the Month


Vanilla Planifolia belongs to the plant family Orchidaceae (orchid) and is native to Mexico. The ripe pods, often incorrectly referred to as beans, are the parts used for culinary purposes however, the sweet almost addictive aromatic scent gives rise to its use not only in cooking but in all types of fragrance products from perfume to candles.



Origin and History of Vanilla


The ancient Totonaco Indians of Mexico were probably the first to fully appreciate the taste of Vanilla as did the Aztecs who defeated them and ruled in Mexico during the 14th and 16th Centuries. 


The defeat of the Aztecs by the Spanish Conquistidors in 1520,  saw the spread of Vanilla to Europe, in particular as an ingredient to a drink using cocoa - Vanilla and chocolate is a taste to be savoured to this day. The nobility kept this delectable concoction to themselves for over 80 years until in 1602 an apothecary to Queen Elizabeth I made claim that vanilla should be used as a flavouring in its own right at which time appreciation for  the Vanilla Bean was truly born in culinary terms.


Until the late 19th century, Mexico had the monopoly on growing vanilla, however  it is now commercially grown in many other tropical countries such as the West Indies, Uganda, and Fiji with Madagascar (Bourbon Vanilla) and Indonesia now growing  the majority of the world's crop. 



Cultivation and Processing Vanilla


The Vanilla plant is a large climbing perennial. It can grow up to 30m/75 feet, clinging to trees for support. It grows within the 20-degree band either side of the Equator and is native to the Americas. It requires warm,  humid conditions to grow and fruit, but even with the optimum warmth, humidity and good drainage, it takes up to three years before the first flowers appear.


The pods grow to between 4 and 12 inches and once the fruit set (probably called beans probably because they look just like big green beans)  they have to remain on the vine for approximately nine months to fully develop. However at harvesting, the pods do not have much flavour or aroma, both of which are developed through processing.


The curing process changes glucovanillin into vanillin which gives vanilla its distinctive flavour. It is a long and labour intensive process which consists of keeping the harvested pods warm, whilst slowly drying,  for almost six months during which time they become soft, dark brown with a white coating of vanillin.


Once properly cured, the pods are either used as they are or further processed into various forms.



Vanilla Extract is made by steeping the cured pods in an alcohol/water solution which is then aged thereby extracting the vanilla flavour. Vanilla Extract must be a minimum of 35 percent alcohol and contain 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans during the extraction process. Some extracts and double or triple strength and of course, there's Vanilla Essence which is even stronger.



 Follow us 



Vanilla flavouring usually means at least 40 percent of  artificial flavour is being used... often much more. It is never as good as pure vanilla and often leaves a bitter aftertaste.


Vanilla Powder comes in several types. Some are made from sucrose which is ribbon-sprayed with vanilla extract, and some are a dextrose-vanilla extract mix however, be aware that many of the vanilla powders from Europe are synthetic i.e. chemically produced.


Ground Vanilla Beans  are sometimes confused with vanilla powder.  However, as the name suggests, it is actually ground vanilla beans. It can be used as vanilla extract but because it isn't in an alcohol base, it is much stronger and you can therefore use half the amount.  


Vanilla Paste is a sweet concentrated vanilla extract that has the vanilla bean seeds included in the mix.



Buying and storing Vanilla


Vanilla pods and bought whole. They should be soft, pliable and very dark brown. A white crystalline coating (vanillin) is a sign of high quality as this is the constituent which gives the pod its flavour. Store in a dark cool place in an airtight container.


When buying extract, always get "pure" or "natural" extract. Store in a dark cool place but do not refrigerate.



Vanilla in Cooking


Most recipes will state whether to use whole vanilla pods, split vanilla pods or  vanilla extract etc., and will give details on how and when to add it.  Whilst vanilla is best known as an ingredient in sweet dishes and baked goods, it goes surprisingly well with fish, poultry and some vegetables.


Happy Cooking!






 Sign up for Free E-mailings

I still haven't found what I'm looking for


Try our search facility. Type in your main ingredient (s) or whatever you happen to have available in your store cupboard or fridge and allow us to whisk you up a recipe in seconds!




For full advanced search tips visit our main search page via the red "search this site" button at the top of the page


About Us  |  Contact Us  |   Advertise |    Private Privacy  |   Media Resources  |  Links  |  Sitemap  |  Printing Recipes  |  


Abbreviations on this site  




This Web Site was designed and created by Copyright 2000 to date [Recipes4us] All rights reserved.

 Some Photos