Vanilla extract is basically vanilla flavoring that is used in a variety of Western dishes such as cakes, brownies, cookies, ice creams, puddings, and sweet bread. The primary ingredient it vanilla, made from the vanilla beans, with water and sometimes-minimal amounts of alcohol are added as a preservative.
Vanilla extract is available in four main varieties, which include Tahitian, Bourbon, also known as Madagascar, Mexican, and Indonesian.
Vanilla bean extract provides nutritional and health benefits. It provides up to 90% of the antioxidants that are found in the whole vanilla bean. The percentage fluctuates due to the type of bean and the concentration of the vanilla extract
- Anti-inflammatory Properties: The antioxidants in vanilla extract help protect the liver and also support joint and tissue health that alleviates inflammation that causes pain.
- Lowers Cholesterol: The vanillin that is found in the vanilla bean helps support healthy cholesterol and this same compound is sometimes found in vanilla extract.
The aroma of vanilla extract can be just as therapeutic as the vanilla bean, depending on the variety, quality and concentration.
How Vanilla Extract Is Made
Vanilla extract is made from the vanilla bean. The variety of vanilla bean used is what determines the description name in which the vanilla extract is bottled. In order to make vanilla extract, the vanilla bean is finely chopped and then put through a percolating method along with water and ethyl alcohol, which helps extract the flavors.
This extraction process takes a minimum of forty-eight hours while the liquid substance is kept in a holding tank, while the vanilla beans remain in the liquid; soaking up the last of the vanillin flavors. Once that process is complete, the beans are strained and the remaining is the liquid extract.
Vanilla extract has a long shelf life and can be stored up to two years.
History of Vanilla
Vanilla grows on a vine and is a member of the orchid family. Like all orchids, the vanilla bean requires proper care. Vanilla is the only member of the orchid family that is edible.
All growing and harvesting of the vanilla bean must be carried out by hand. In the wild, hummingbirds pollinate the vanilla plant, which is required for vanilla beans to produce. However, when commercially cultivated, this pollination must be completed manually, for each plant. In addition to manual pollination, the cycle in which to do this is a very small window, usually lasting no longer than a day.
After pollination, the beans must mature on the vine for as long as nine months, after which harvesting and drying are done manually as well. All in all, the commercial production of the vanilla bean requires the most labor of all agricultural crops.
The vanilla bean has been held in such high regard that they have actually been stolen. Due to the frequent occurrence of theft, vanilla bean growers started to brand each and every vanilla bean with a mark that was specific to them. This mark would be an identifier when the stolen beans were sold.
Most vanilla extracts are derived from the Madagascar variety of vanilla bean. It is the most expensive flavoring after saffron.