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Rediscover Vanilla

A treat for the senses

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Rediscover Vanilla

Think vanilla means bland or boring? Think again. Vanilla adds richness to food and beverages, and a soothing top note to candles, perfume, and body oils.

Think vanilla means bland or boring? Think again. Vanilla adds richness to food and beverages, and a soothing top note to candles, perfume, and body oils.

Most of us are familiar with small, dark bottles of vanilla liquid. Be careful. Some grocery stores carry vanilla flavouring or imitation vanilla—a concoction of clove oil, waste paper pulp, and coal tar. Leave those on the shelf.

Instead, head for your health food store and reach for the queen of vanillas—pure vanilla extract. It’s more expensive, but it’s healthier and has a richer taste. Vanilla extract is easy to use in baking, has an indefinite shelf life, and improves with age, partly due to its alcohol base.

For nonalcoholic versions, try vanilla paste or powder. While vanilla extract and paste are interchangeable in recipes, the powder is stronger, so halve the amount.

Store all these products in a cool, dry place.

A bean to savour
Due to their luscious flavour and ready availability, vanilla beans are becoming more popular. Look for dark brown, slender, pliable beans. The best ones, called fine vanilla, are covered in givre—a crystal containing the active ingredient vanillin.

Less expensive woody vanilla beans are shorter, lighter in colour, and uncrystallized, with a stronger, slightly bitter taste. For the richest, most aromatic beans, choose those from Madagascar or Mexico rather than from Indonesia or Tahiti.

Use the bean to flavour cream sauces, puddings, and ice creams by steeping it in the liquid base. For flecks of vanilla in the finished product, slit the pod case and scrape the tiny black seeds into the base. Save the bean for reuse. Simply rinse it and dab dry before storing.

Out of the kitchen
There’s more to vanilla than baking. In its essential oil form, vanilla adds a fresh, light scent to candles, potpourri, and soap. It’s also used to aromatize massage, bath, and body oils. Either alone or added to many blends to round out the aromas, it brings a balance and smoothness to natural perfumes and aromatic creations.

Traditionally, vanilla has been used to soothe emotions and induce calmness and relaxation.

So follow your nose to your local health food store and discover vanilla in all its glory. You’ll never think it’s plain again.

Storing vanilla beans
Option 1

  • Wrap them in wax paper or plastic wrap.
  • Place them in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
  • Don’t refrigerate or freeze them; this encourages mold.
  • Air the beans every two months for 15 minutes.
  • Use them within six months to a year.

Option 2

  • Put beans in a jar.
  • Totally cover them with sugar for two to three weeks, so they’re not exposed to light.
  • Use the vanilla sugar in coffee or cooking.
  • Discard the beans after a few months, or when the sugar loses its flavour.
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