Vanilla, the most popular flavour in the world! There are three major varieties of vanilla, Mexican, Tahitian and the most common Bourbon Bean (the islands not the alcohol). Second in price only to saffron, vanilla beans aren't really beans at all, but rather the cured fruit of vanilla orchids.
In Australia vanilla essence & extract are both pure forms of vanilla, imitation vanilla is clearly labelled 'imitation'.
Today my husband Mark and Step-son Dan participated in a blind vanilla taste test, I did try to convince them to chew on pods but alas they would only taste test four brands of liquid vanilla extract/essence.
Some of the vanilla products available in Australia: Essential Vanilla Extract 50g $21.95, Queen Vanilla Essence 100ml $6.53, Herbie's Vanilla Extract, Queen Vanilla Extract 200ml $10.52, home made Vanilla sugar with Bourbon Bean pod, Queen Vanilla bean paste 65g $10.88, Herbie's Mexican Vanilla Bean pod (top) $3.00, Herbie's Papua New Guinea 2 bean pack $4.75
Now as you can imagine, tasting essence & extract when it's not in your baking isn't the most pleasurable way to experience vanilla but they dutifully tried them and this is their observations...
The candidates; Queen Vanilla Extract & Queen Vanilla Essence; Queen is the brand in all supermarkets in Australia, Essential Vanilla; a French import sold by the Essential Ingredient, Herbie's 2 Fold Mexican Vanilla Extract; imported and packaged by Herbie's a small company specialising in herbs and spices.
Queen Vanilla Extract; both Daniel & Mark thought this was not very strong in flavour or aroma with Mark describing it as "bland".
Queen Vanilla Essence; Daniel said "I'd guess artificial, tastes and smells slightly bitter", Mark described it as mild tasting & plastic aroma.
Essential Vanilla Extract; Daniel said "Smells natural, with a natural smooth taste", Mark described it as mild, with a natural aroma.
Herbie's; Mark "This one tastes salty", Daniel "Stronger than the others, leaves a strong vanilla aftertaste"
Hmmm, slightly worried about my husband Marks jaded palette, he thought they were all mild & there is no salt in the Herbie's! Me and what I bake with; I use Bourbon Bean pods, Queen Vanilla Extract when Vanilla isn't the predominant flavour, a jar of vanilla bean paste for the emergency "I've run out of vanilla bean pods" moments. Essential Ingredients Essential Vanilla Extract when making our favourite vanilla desserts & baked goods, the aroma & flavour is what you expect to vanilla to be, it always reminds me of vanilla milkshakes from childhood. Though at the moment I'm am loving the Mexican Vanilla extract from Herbies too.
After organic? Then Neilsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon Organic Vanilla Bean Extract is the most well known brand. 118ml bottle is going to set you back $44.75 from Simon Johnson... you have just fainted if you are American haven't you? Seems to be a bit of an Australian import tax problem with the high quality organic extract, the same size bottle on Amazon is $7.49. In Australia, also check your local organic food store as there are organic brands coming out Vanuatu. Favoured by television chefs & cooks Neilsen Massey Organic Pure Vanilla Extract
Make you own Vanilla Essence/Extract
6 vanilla bean pods (choose the plumpest softest beans you can find)
2 cups vodka
Split the pods and scrape out the seeds, put the pods and seeds into a jar with a tight fitting lid, cover with vodka and leave for 2 months before straining and use as per normal.
If you don't mind the seeds you can skip the straining step and the essence will continue to mature with storage.
Alcohol free; vanilla essence & extract are not suitable for Muslim consumption, whilst there is alcohol free extracts they aren't known for having the same flavour. Obviously you can use vanilla beans, but for adding a quick vanilla burst to your baking look into vanilla powder & definitely have a jar of vanilla sugar on hand.
1 vanilla bean pod
2 cups of sugar or one cup caster sugar
Seal the sugar and the vanilla bean pod (either chopped or whole) in an airtight jar, store for two weeks before using.