Versatile Vanilla and its Value to Your Culinary Career

The scent of vanilla is instantly recognizable, whether emitting from your favorite baked goods or wafting from perfume and candles. Resembling a green string bean when harvested, the vanilla bean is most frequently transformed into an extract and utilized as a culinary additive in desserts, side dishes, and even entrees. While studying the culinary arts, chefs learn how to supplement their recipes with this popular ingredient and also study some of these interesting facts about vanilla.

The Background of Vanilla

The vanilla bean, technically a seed pod, is from a specific variety of orchid first thought to be cultivated in Mexico. While vanilla is still grown in tropical climates around the world, the two largest producers are Madagascar and Indonesia. Labor- and time-intensive to produce, vanilla is the second most expensive spice available. Throughout history, vanilla has been used for culinary, medicinal, and aromatherapy purposes.

Vanilla Extract: Most Popular Culinary Use of Vanilla

When cooking with vanilla, chefs frequently use pure vanilla extract. The most common types of extracts are the Bourbon, Tahitian, Indonesian, and Mexican vanillas. Extract is made by soaking chopped vanilla beans in a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water, followed by an aging period and filtration process. The FDA regulates vanilla extract produced in the U.S. by setting guidelines for the proportion of beans to water to alcohol, but the quality of the beans and the presence of other additives can vary.

Besides extract, chefs have the option to use other forms of vanilla such as vanilla beans, vanilla sugar, vanilla essence, and vanilla powder. Culinary education instructs chefs when to use the different variations of this flavor that continues to have such appeal.