Get the Scoop on Vanilla

The Real Bean

For chefs and others in the culinary arts, the first choice concerning vanilla is which kind to use. You have the choice between the bean and the extract. According to The Vanilla Company, "97% of vanilla used as a flavor and fragrance is synthetic." It turns out there's a good reason for the popularity of imitation extracts: the real thing is quite expensive because of the labor-intensive harvesting process.

Vanilla Rustling, Theft, and Tattoos

Though chefs these days wouldn't run around stealing it, the high price of vanilla has made it a valuable commodity throughout history. Countries that produce vanilla have long histories of "vanilla rustling" and thievery. The Vanilla Company says that some farmers became so concerned that they branded their beans with a distinctive tattoo so that they would be able to identify their own crop.

Patricia Rain's Great Ideas

Many chefs are used to using vanilla for cookies and cakes, but Patricia Rain, author of The Vanilla Cookbook, suggests a number of non-traditional uses for vanilla. Here, in her own words, are just a few of her great ideas:
  • Put a little vanilla in tomato sauces to neutralize the acidity.
  • Add vanilla to flavorless seasonal fruits or other foods that need a flavor boost.
  • Add a few drops of vanilla to vegetables, sweet potatoes, and salad dressings.
  • Use with roasted, sauteed or barbequed meats, poultry, wild game or seafood.
  • Split a vanilla bean and place it in a bottle of olive or other quality oils for sauteing meats, poultry, or seafood.
  • Add a few drops of vanilla extract to cooked fish, fowl, or game as well as to sauces and marinades.

Working in the culinary arts challenges you to cook artfully and with creativity. Remember vanilla when you need a way to make your recipe unique.