The Spice and Herb Bible: A Cook's Guide

Overview

Cooks use spices and herbs to not only enhance food flavor, but to also create new taste combinations and sensations. From the vanilla bean used in creating ice cream to the cinnamon in fragrant cinnamon buns, it is virtually impossible to imagine a kitchen without spices.

The Spice and Herb Bible is a fascinating, authoritative history and reference source. Ian Hemphill describes a wide range of global herbs and spices which can be used in today's kitchen, either alone or in ...

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Overview

Cooks use spices and herbs to not only enhance food flavor, but to also create new taste combinations and sensations. From the vanilla bean used in creating ice cream to the cinnamon in fragrant cinnamon buns, it is virtually impossible to imagine a kitchen without spices.

The Spice and Herb Bible is a fascinating, authoritative history and reference source. Ian Hemphill describes a wide range of global herbs and spices which can be used in today's kitchen, either alone or in magical combinations. This book demystifies the art of combining herbs and spices, and introduces the home cook to worlds of tastes formerly to be had only at "exotic" restaurants. With delightful recipes and great tips for use and storage, The Spice and Herb Bible is truly an essential resource for any well-equipped kitchen.

  • More than 100 spices and herbs listed alphabetically
  • Quick, complete reference
  • Storage and use details for each herb and spice
  • Detailed color photographs of every herb and spice
  • 29 spice blend recipes, including Garam Masala and Herbes de Provence
  • For the novice and experienced cook
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Editorial Reviews

New York Daily News
Spices and herbs lend flavor and fragrance to foods, and this book explains how to get the most mileage out of them.

— Rosemary Black

Books in Canada
A long overdue, essential kitchen tool for any serious home-cook. Here, finally, an easy to navigate encyclopedia of the flavors, scents, and perfumes of the world's cuisines, an aromatic gem of a book, as useful as it is weighty at almost 500 pages... This is an indispensable addition to any kitchen library, and one you'll find reason to consult alongside everyone of your cookbooks.

— Byron Ayanoglu

Rocky Mountain News
A terrific book.

— Marty Meitus

Healthy Cooking
Comprehensive information about all these natural ingredients that add flavor to food.
New York Daily News - Rosemary Black
Spices and herbs lend flavor and fragrance to foods, and this book explains how to get the most mileage out of them.
HortIdeas
Simply put, [Hemphill] knows his herbs and spices.
Books in Canada - Byron Ayanoglu
A long overdue, essential kitchen tool for any serious home-cook. Here, finally, an easy to navigate encyclopedia of the flavors, scents, and perfumes of the world's cuisines, an aromatic gem of a book, as useful as it is weighty at almost 500 pages... This is an indispensable addition to any kitchen library, and one you'll find reason to consult alongside everyone of your cookbooks.
Rocky Mountain News - Marty Meitus
A terrific book.
El Nuevo Herald, Miami, FL - Cristina Juri Arencibia
[About Second Edition] Un excelente libro... Pero lo más interesante de este libro es cómo ha sido recopilado, y que está escrito en un lenguaje comprehensible para la majoría de los lectores, además de ser muy infomativo. [An excellent book... But most interesting about this book is how it has been compiled, and that it is written in a language comprehensible for the majority of readers, in addition to being very informative.]
Darien Times (Darien, CT) - Susan Miller
Casual cook or culinary adventurer, everyone will enjoy parts or all of this guide.... The authors provide a multitude of details, all of which are fascinating.... Most recipes are appealing and easy.... Detailed, thorough but never pedantic, and especially well-illustrated.
Rosemary Black
This book explains how to get the most mileage out of [spices and herbs].
New York Daily News
HortIdeas
Simply put, [Hemphill] knows his herbs and spices.
Publishers Weekly
Ian Hemphill grew up in a Australian family that pioneered in the spice business in the 1950s and it became his life's work. In The Spice and Herb Bible: A Cook's Guide he offers insight into the exotic scents and flavors of culinary herbs and spices. In this alphabetical guide, the author includes sidebars containing the botanical and common names of each subject, the family, flavor group and weight. Included are 32 pages of close-up color photographs of many of the 97 spices and herbs. (Apr.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
Can you imagine a world without spices or flavorings? Spices have been used from ancient times to enhance flavors, to mask unpleasant odors, and for medicinal purposes, among other uses. Historically, the acquisition of spices played a major role in the development of trade routes in addition to the survival of various societies. This title is a fascinating, authoritative history and thorough source of information about herbs and spices. Entries on each seasoning contain the following information: history, processing, buying and storage, use, common/botanical names, names in other languages, flavor group, weight per teaspoon, suggested quantity per pound, complements, "used in," and "combines with." Beautiful color photographs show what the spices and herbs look like in their original form. A special section about spice blending provides additional information that enhances our spice awareness. The author has spent his entire life involved in some aspect of the spice industry, from working in the family spice business to managing a spice company overseas to ultimately owning a specialty spice shop in Australia. Today his store, Herbies Spices, boasts the largest selection of spices in the southern hemisphere. Check out their Web site: www.herbies.com.au. This is a wonderful resource for both the novice and the experienced cook. KLIATT Codes: JSA—Recommended for junior and senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Firefly, Robert Rose, 498p. illus. index.,
— Shirley Reis
Library Journal
Australian-born Hemphill grew up on his family's herb farm, and he and his wife now run a specialty spice and herb market in a suburb of Sydney. His ambitious reference work covers more than 95 herbs and spices, ranging from ajowan to zedoary and including both the familiar and the exotic. The detailed entries (there are nine pages on vanilla alone) provide common and botanical names, origin and history, "flavor group," and tips on buying, storage, and use, along with a wealth of other information; most also include a recipe, and there are color photographs of the herbs and spices as well. In addition to the A-to-Z guide, there is a large section on combining spices and herbs, in blends such as Moroccan chermoula, Indian garam masala, and French quatre pices, among others. This invaluable reference is essential for most collections. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780778800422
  • Publisher: Rose, Robert Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/2/2002
  • Pages: 512
  • Product dimensions: 7.00 (w) x 10.00 (h) x 1.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Ian Hemphill a native of Sydney, Australia grew up working in the family spice business. He managed a spice company overseas before returning to Sydney, where he opened a specialty shop bearing the nickname Ian has had since his school days: Herbie. Today, Herbie's Spices boasts the largest selection of herbs and spices for sale and export in the Southern Hemisphere.

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Read an Excerpt

VANILLA

Other Common Names

  • vanilla bean
  • vanilla pod
  • vanilla extract
  • vanilla essence

Botanical Names

  • vanilla (Vanilla planifolia, V. fragrans)
  • West Indian vanilla (V. pompona)
  • Tahitian vanilla (V. tahitensis)

Family

  • Orchidaceæ

Other side bar information

  • Names in Other Languages
  • Flavor Group
  • Weight per Teaspoon (5 ML)
  • Suggested Quantity per Pound (500 G)
  • Complements
  • Used In
  • Combines with

follows at the end of the main entry

Vanilla is a member of the orchid genus, which is the largest family of flowering plants in the world, encompassing some 20,000 species. Vanilla, of which there are about 100 varieties, is the only species of Orchidaceæ of any culinary significance. The most important variety, V. planifolia, is a tropical climbing orchid, its succulent 1/3 - 1/4 in. (1-2 cm) diameter stems reach 33 - 49 ft. (10-15 in) high by clinging to host trees with long aerial roots. The leaves are flat, fleshy and large, ranging from 31/4-10 in. (8-25 cm) long and 3/4 - 3 1/4 in. (2-8 cm) wide. They are rounded at the base and taper abruptly to a 'cow-lick' pointed tip. The slightly fragrant, pale-greenish flower is yellow-lipped and averages 3 1/4 - 4 in. (8-10 cm) in diameter. The almost cylindrical, angled 4-10 in. (10-25 cm) long capsules that follow, hang in clusters and are referred to as pods or beans. When fresh they have no aroma or taste, it is the cured vanilla beans that are the source of true vanilla flavor.

There are two other varieties of vanilla, however their flavor is inferior when compared to V. planifolia. West Indian vanilla resembles V. planifolia but has larger leaves and flowers and shorter, thicker pods. Tahitian vanilla is native to Tahiti and cultivated in Hawaii, it has slender stems, narrow leaves and small pods that taper at either end.

A cured vanilla bean is dark brown to black in color, averages 7 - 8 in. (18-20 cm) long, has a shriveled appearance with many longitudinal ridges and indentations and is as flexible as a strip of well-oiled bridle leather. A dusting of white, sugary powder known as givre sometimes appears on the surface; this is vanillin (the active ingredient responsible for vanilla's flavor) which has crystallized. When split lengthwise, a black sticky mass of millions of minute seeds is revealed, each one being no larger than a speck of ground black pepper. The aroma of a vanilla bean is fragrant, floral, sweet and highly agreeable. Similarly, its taste is rich, smooth and appealing, although the flavor can only be fully appreciated in tandem with its seductive smell.

Origin and History

Vanilla is indigenous to the south-east of Mexico and parts of Central America where it grows in well-drained soils that are high in humus from the surrounding tropical vegetation. Although it is not known when the Aztecs started using vanilla, its production had reached some degree of sophistication by the time the Spanish were introduced to it in a drink of chocolate and vanilla sweetened with honey, that was given to Cortés by the Aztec emperor Montezuma in 1520. So impressed were the Spanish with this discovery that they imported vanilla beans and established factories in Spain to manufacture chocolate flavored with vanilla. The flavor of vanilla was not its only attribute as it had apparently earned a reputation as a nerve stimulant, an aphrodisiac and was also used to scent tobacco. Although plants were taken to England as early as 1733, and were re-introduced at the beginning of the nineteenth century, all serious attempts to have them produce pods outside their natural habitat had failed. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that the reason for this barrenness, due to the absence of natural pollinators, was discovered and thus a satisfactory method of hand pollination developed. By the early twentieth century, vanilla was cultivated in Reunion, Tahiti, and parts of Africa and Madagascar.

Sadly the invention of artificial vanilla from the waste sulphite liqueur of paper nulls, coal tar extracts or eugenol (the oil from cloves)
nearly ruined the natural vanilla industry. Imitation vanilla was about one-tenth of the price of real vanilla and although inferior in flavor profile, accounted for the lion's share of vanilla flavoring used in the burgeoning global market for ice-cream, confectionery and beverages. By the end of the twentieth century, consumer demand for natural flavors and an appreciation for the superior nuances in the flavor of real vanilla, has seen some resurgence in the Mexican industry as well as creating opportunities for new producers such as India and Indonesia.

Processing

The production of vanilla is an extraordinarily labor intensive process, beginning with fertilizing the flowers, which has to be done by hand to ensure a good crop. This is because the flowers are pollinated in their natural habitat by little bees of the genus Melapona. There are either not enough of these bees around to pollinate the vanilla flowers or the vines may be growing in regions where these bees do not exist. To complicate things further, there is a small membrane in the vanilla flower that prevents the stigma and stamen from touching and pollinating. Therefore the painstaking process of bending the two filaments to touch (generally done with a small implement like a toothpick) has to be done to every flower in the plantation to ensure it produces a vanilla bean.

The successfully fertilized flowers produce pods in about six weeks, and six to nine months after pollination the green pods begin to turn yellow at the bottom tip, indicating they are ready for harvest. We were intrigued when visiting a vanilla plantation in Papantla in south-eastern Mexico, to learn that owing to the high value of vanilla beans, they were often stolen by bandits just before the harvest. The farmers we saw said this had been a big problem for them in the past, however the bandits were often caught because of the practice of literally branding each vanilla bean! Difficult to imagine as it is, they did brand each green bean, using a cork with some pins in it forming a pattern. This pattern was 'branded' onto every bean and it stayed there and even remained after curing.

You will have noticed that most vanilla beans are uniform in length and look quite straight. On the plantation we visited, the farmer removes any curved pods, leaving only the good straight ones to mature. As the vanilla pods don't all mature at the same time the harvest can take place over a period of about three months. The pods are picked and then taken into town where they are cured. The harvested green, tasteless beans are laid in boxes and put into a wood-fired kiln to start the drying and curing process in which enzymes naturally occurring in vanilla create vanillin. After about 24 hours in the kiln the vanilla beans are spread out in the sun to absorb heat, becoming so hot you would almost burn your fingers if you picked one up. At the end of the day the pods are gathered up and wrapped in blankets or straw mats and laid out to sweat on multi-tiered racks in a large shed that is protected from the weather. The vanilla beans go through this process on a rotational basis and are then stored for up to six months until they have turned a very dark brown or black and the head curer is satisfied that the curing process is complete. During this time a vanilla bean may have been handled 100 times or more, and what commenced as five kilos of green, uncured beans becomes one kilo of properly cured vanilla beans. The beans are then graded according to quality and strung together in tight bundles of 60-100 pods ready for export. Although one may think no job could be more pleasant than working with vanilla all day long, vanilla workers hav

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Table of Contents

Foreword
Introduction

I. The World of Spices

The Spices in Our Lives
• What is the Difference Between Spices and Herbs?
• Buying and Storing Spices and Herbs
• Using Fresh and Dried Spices and Herbs

II. Spice Notes

Ajowan
• Alexanders
• Allspice
• Amchur
• Angelica
• Aniseed
• Annatto Seed
• Asafoetida
• Balm
• Barberry
• Basil
• Bay Leaves
• Bergamot
• Black Limes
• Borage
• Brown Cardamom
• Bush Tomato
• Calamus
• Candle Nut
• Caper
• Caraway
• Cardamom
• Celery Seed
• Chervil
• Chicory
• Chili
• Chives
• Cinnamon and Cassia
• Cloves
• Coriander
• Cress
• Cumin
• Curry Leaf
• Dill
• Elder
• Epazote
• Fennel
• Fenugreek
• Filé Powder
• Galangal
• Garlic
• Ginger
• Grains of Paradise
• Horseradish
• Juniper
• Kaffir Lime Leaves
• Kokam
• Lavender
• Lemongrass
• Lemon Myrtle
• Lemon Verbena
• Licorice Root
• Lovage
• Mahlab
• Mastic
• Mint
• Mustard *
Nigella
• Nutmeg and Mace
• Oregano and Marjoram
• Orris Root
• Pandan Leaf
• Paprika
• Parsley
• Pepper- Mountain
• Pepper- Pink Schinus
• Pepper- Szechwan
• Pepper- Vine
• Pomegranate
• Poppy Seed
• Purslane
• Rocket
• Rosemary
• Safflower
• Saffron
• Sage
• Salad Burnet
• Salt
• Savory
• Sesame
• Sorrel
• Star Anise
• Sumac
• Sweet Cicely
• Tamarind
• Tarragon
• Thyme
• Turmeric
• Vanilla
• Vietnamese Mint
• Wattleseed
• Zedoary

III. The Art of Combining Spices

Spices Found in Popular Cuisines
• The Principles of Making Spice Blends
• Baharat
• Barbecue Spices
• Berbere
• Bouquet Garni
• Cajun Spice Mix
• Chaat Masala
• Chermoula
• Chinese Five Spice
• Curry Powder
• Dukkah
• Fines Herbes
• Garam Masala
• Harissa
• Herb and Vegetable Salts
• Herbes de Provence
• Italian Herbs
• Mexican Chili Powder
• Mixed Herbs
• Mixed Spice / Apple Pie Spice
• Panch Phora
• Peppermill Blend
• Pickling Spice
• Quatre Epices
• Ras el Hanout *
Sambar Powder
• Shichimi-Togarashi
• Tagine Spice Mix
• Tea and Coffee Masala
• Za'atar

Bibliography
Index
Photo Index

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Preface

Introduction

When one grows up on a herb farm and then proceeds to spend the next 30 years working in the herb and spice industry, it is easy to assume that everyone else feels as comfortable with using herbs and spices as you do. Of course this is far from the reality and over the years I have been asked many questions, from the bizarre to the basic. What people want most is an insight into the world of spices from someone who works with these miracles of nature everyday.

In The Spice and Herb Bible I have set out to give the reader 'the inside story', based on the learning and experiences I have assimilated in this ancient and stimulating industry.

It seems appropriate to begin by explaining some of the basics and sharing interesting facts that apply to all herbs and spices. Part Two looks at individual herbs and spices, in alphabetical order by common English name (to assist in looking up a reference quickly). Part Three deals with the art of combining spices. Once you have an understanding of the individual herb and spice characteristics it is a logical next step to bring surprisingly diverse flavors together to create completely unimaginable results. Because spices are so important in determining the signatures of foods from different countries, I have provided a list of the key spice flavors that are used in some of the world's most popular cuisines. I hope you will find this interesting and stimulating, and most importantly will feel that the art of using spices successfully in everyday cooking has been demystified and made more enjoyable.

Read More Show Less

Introduction

Introduction

When one grows up on a herb farm and then proceeds to spend the next 30 years working in the herb and spice industry, it is easy to assume that everyone else feels as comfortable with using herbs and spices as you do. Of course this is far from the reality and over the years I have been asked many questions, from the bizarre to the basic. What people want most is an insight into the world of spices from someone who works with these miracles of nature everyday.

In The Spice and Herb Bible I have set out to give the reader 'the inside story', based on the learning and experiences I have assimilated in this ancient and stimulating industry.

It seems appropriate to begin by explaining some of the basics and sharing interesting facts that apply to all herbs and spices. Part Two looks at individual herbs and spices, in alphabetical order by common English name (to assist in looking up a reference quickly). Part Three deals with the art of combining spices. Once you have an understanding of the individual herb and spice characteristics it is a logical next step to bring surprisingly diverse flavors together to create completely unimaginable results. Because spices are so important in determining the signatures of foods from different countries, I have provided a list of the key spice flavors that are used in some of the world's most popular cuisines. I hope you will find this interesting and stimulating, and most importantly will feel that the art of using spices successfully in everyday cooking has been demystified and made more enjoyable.

Read More Show Less

Recipe

VANILLA

Other Common Names

  • vanilla bean
  • vanilla pod
  • vanilla extract
  • vanilla essence


Botanical Names

  • vanilla (Vanilla planifolia, V. fragrans)
  • West Indian vanilla (V. pompona)
  • Tahitian vanilla (V. tahitensis)


Family

Orchidace


Other side bar information

  • Names in Other Languages
  • Flavor Group
  • Weight per Teaspoon (5 ML)
  • Suggested Quantity per Pound (500 G)
  • Complements
  • Used In
  • Combines with
follows at the end of the main entry

Vanilla is a member of the orchid genus, which is the largest family of flowering plants in the world, encompassing some 20,000 species. Vanilla, of which there are about 100 varieties, is the only species of Orchidace of any culinary significance. The most important variety, V. planifolia, is a tropical climbing orchid, its succulent 1/3 - 1/4 in. (1-2 cm) diameter stems reach 33 - 49 ft. (10-15 in) high by clinging to host trees with long aerial roots. The leaves are flat, fleshy and large, ranging from 31/4-10 in. (8-25 cm) long and 3/4 - 3 1/4 in. (2-8 cm) wide. They are rounded at the base and taper abruptly to a 'cow-lick' pointed tip. The slightly fragrant, pale-greenish flower is yellow-lipped and averages 3 1/4 - 4 in. (8-10 cm) in diameter. The almost cylindrical, angled 4-10 in. (10-25 cm) long capsules that follow, hang in clusters and are referred to as pods or beans. When fresh they have no aroma or taste, it is the cured vanilla beans that are the source of true vanilla flavor.

There are two other varieties of vanilla,however their flavor is inferior when compared to V. planifolia. West Indian vanilla resembles V. planifolia but has larger leaves and flowers and shorter, thicker pods. Tahitian vanilla is native to Tahiti and cultivated in Hawaii, it has slender stems, narrow leaves and small pods that taper at either end.

A cured vanilla bean is dark brown to black in color, averages 7 - 8 in. (18-20 cm) long, has a shriveled appearance with many longitudinal ridges and indentations and is as flexible as a strip of well-oiled bridle leather. A dusting of white, sugary powder known as givre sometimes appears on the surface; this is vanillin (the active ingredient responsible for vanilla's flavor) which has crystallized. When split lengthwise, a black sticky mass of millions of minute seeds is revealed, each one being no larger than a speck of ground black pepper. The aroma of a vanilla bean is fragrant, floral, sweet and highly agreeable. Similarly, its taste is rich, smooth and appealing, although the flavor can only be fully appreciated in tandem with its seductive smell.

Origin and History

Vanilla is indigenous to the south-east of Mexico and parts of Central America where it grows in well-drained soils that are high in humus from the surrounding tropical vegetation. Although it is not known when the Aztecs started using vanilla, its production had reached some degree of sophistication by the time the Spanish were introduced to it in a drink of chocolate and vanilla sweetened with honey, that was given to Corts by the Aztec emperor Montezuma in 1520. So impressed were the Spanish with this discovery that they imported vanilla beans and established factories in Spain to manufacture chocolate flavored with vanilla. The flavor of vanilla was not its only attribute as it had apparently earned a reputation as a nerve stimulant, an aphrodisiac and was also used to scent tobacco. Although plants were taken to England as early as 1733, and were re-introduced at the beginning of the nineteenth century, all serious attempts to have them produce pods outside their natural habitat had failed. It was not until the middle of the nineteenth century that the reason for this barrenness, due to the absence of natural pollinators, was discovered and thus a satisfactory method of hand pollination developed. By the early twentieth century, vanilla was cultivated in Reunion, Tahiti, and parts of Africa and Madagascar.

Sadly the invention of artificial vanilla from the waste sulphite liqueur of paper nulls, coal tar extracts or eugenol (the oil from cloves) nearly ruined the natural vanilla industry. Imitation vanilla was about one-tenth of the price of real vanilla and although inferior in flavor profile, accounted for the lion's share of vanilla flavoring used in the burgeoning global market for ice-cream, confectionery and beverages. By the end of the twentieth century, consumer demand for natural flavors and an appreciation for the superior nuances in the flavor of real vanilla, has seen some resurgence in the Mexican industry as well as creating opportunities for new producers such as India and Indonesia.

Processing

The production of vanilla is an extraordinarily labor intensive process, beginning with fertilizing the flowers, which has to be done by hand to ensure a good crop. This is because the flowers are pollinated in their natural habitat by little bees of the genus Melapona. There are either not enough of these bees around to pollinate the vanilla flowers or the vines may be growing in regions where these bees do not exist. To complicate things further, there is a small membrane in the vanilla flower that prevents the stigma and stamen from touching and pollinating. Therefore the painstaking process of bending the two filaments to touch (generally done with a small implement like a toothpick) has to be done to every flower in the plantation to ensure it produces a vanilla bean.

The successfully fertilized flowers produce pods in about six weeks, and six to nine months after pollination the green pods begin to turn yellow at the bottom tip, indicating they are ready for harvest. We were intrigued when visiting a vanilla plantation in Papantla in south-eastern Mexico, to learn that owing to the high value of vanilla beans, they were often stolen by bandits just before the harvest. The farmers we saw said this had been a big problem for them in the past, however the bandits were often caught because of the practice of literally branding each vanilla bean! Difficult to imagine as it is, they did brand each green bean, using a cork with some pins in it forming a pattern. This pattern was 'branded' onto every bean and it stayed there and even remained after curing.

You will have noticed that most vanilla beans are uniform in length and look quite straight. On the plantation we visited, the farmer removes any curved pods, leaving only the good straight ones to mature. As the vanilla pods don't all mature at the same time the harvest can take place over a period of about three months. The pods are picked and then taken into town where they are cured. The harvested green, tasteless beans are laid in boxes and put into a wood-fired kiln to start the drying and curing process in which enzymes naturally occurring in vanilla create vanillin. After about 24 hours in the kiln the vanilla beans are spread out in the sun to absorb heat, becoming so hot you would almost burn your fingers if you picked one up. At the end of the day the pods are gathered up and wrapped in blankets or straw mats and laid out to sweat on multi-tiered racks in a large shed that is protected from the weather. The vanilla beans go through this process on a rotational basis and are then stored for up to six months until they have turned a very dark brown or black and the head curer is satisfied that the curing process is complete. During this time a vanilla bean may have been handled 100 times or more, and what commenced as five kilos of green, uncured beans becomes one kilo of properly cured vanilla beans. The beans are then graded according to quality and strung together in tight bundles of 60-100 pods ready for export. Although one may think no job could be more pleasant than working with vanilla all day long, vanilla workers have been known to suffer from a side-effect called 'vanillisim', caused by over exposure to vanilla, its symptoms being headaches, lassitude and allergic reactions.

A fascinating craft we saw in Papantla was the making of little figures and flower designs painstakingly plaited out of the pliable beans by nimble-fingered womenfolk in the village. We also tasted a delicious liqueur made from vanilla beans that has a flavor a little like Tia Maria, only instead of the distinct coffee taste there was a strong, almost smoked, woody sweet vanilla flavor.

Natural vanilla extract is made when finely chopped cured vanilla beans are soaked in alcohol to extract the fragrance and flavor components. A proportion of the alcohol is then distilled off leaving an essence of soluble vanilla extractives in a solution that contains up to 35 per cent alcohol. Some so-called 'thick' vanilla essences contain added sugar, glycerin, propylene glycol and dextrose or corn syrup. Work has also been done to produce vanilla pastes comprised of ground up vanilla beans. These tend to be less effective in cooking, as one is actually eating a proportion of woody-tasting pod skin that would otherwise have been removed from the dish after infusing a whole bean in the traditional manner.

Buying and Storage

Vanilla beans are readily available from specialty food retailers, however when buying whole vanilla beans, regardless of their country of origin, it is important to make sure they have not dried out and lost their flavor and aroma. A good vanilla bean is dark brown or black, moist to the touch, as pliable as a piece of confectionery licorice and immediately fragrant. They should be stored in an airtight pack and protected from extremes of heat, light and humidity. Under these conditions, a vanilla bean will keep for up to 18 months. There are five main types of vanilla in the market, and it should be remembered that within each type there are a series of grades, as there is with most spices, which reflect their overall quality.

Mexican vanilla, with its long history and 300 year monopoly of the trade up until the nineteenth century, has been traditionally regarded as possessing the finest aroma and flavor. Some cooks who have only experienced artificial vanilla may consider that Mexican vanilla lacks a certain depth of flavor and fail to appreciate the delicate top notes which are characteristic of this type.

Bourbon vanilla is from three main sources: Madagascar, the Comoro Islands and Reunion. Its depth of body is a little more pronounced than Mexican vanilla, making Bourbon a preferred variety for the extraction industry, however it lacks the fine aroma when compared to the best vanilla from Mexico.

Indonesian vanilla carries a deep full-bodied flavor and has traditionally been of variable quality, something that is not as critical when it is employed for blending with synthetic vanillin and syrups, the most popular application for this type. Recently, greater care in curing and bean selection for their top grades has seen Indonesian bourbon-grade vanilla become available with some success on the whole bean market.

West Indian vanilla is of a lower grade than Mexican or Bourbon and is produced principally on the former French island of Guadeloupe. It has a low vanillin content and is mostly used in making perfumes, as the flavor is considered too poor to be suitable for making vanilla extract.

Tahitian vanilla is native to Tahiti, and is produced in Hawaii. It also has a low vanillin content. Some consider its taste to be rank, making it less popular for flavoring purposes than true vanilla.

When buying vanilla essence or extract, it is advisable to look closely at the label to determine exactly what is in the bottle. As previously mentioned there are many blended concoctions of vanilla, which may contain other flavors and artificial vanillin. Depending upon the packaging laws in the country you are buying it in, true vanilla extract is most likely to be labelled 'natural vanilla extract' with some reference to the alcohol content, such as 'less than 35 per cent alcohol by volume'. I am often asked what the difference is between an essence and an extract. An extract is made by literally extracting the desired attributes of a substance. Thus soaking vanilla in alcohol extracts the vanilla flavor. An essence is either a distilled or concentrated extract or an artificial facsimile of the distinctive characteristic attribute of something. This explains why artificial vanilla is generally labeled 'imitation vanilla essence'. Vanilla extract should be stored in a dark place away from extreme heat, and under these conditions it will keep for up to 18 months.

Vanilla powder under rare, very expensive, circumstances is made by scraping off the sugary, crystalline powder that naturally forms on the surface of some vanilla beans after curing. It may also be a mixture of powdered vanilla and vanilla extract mixed with a food starch and sugar. Artificial vanillin powder is commonly blended with caster sugar to make the vanilla sugar seen in supermarkets.

Use

Vanilla essence is used to flavor ice-cream, cookies, cakes, sweets, liqueurs and adds fragrance to perfumes. True vanilla has a pervading sweet fragrance, balanced by a slightly caramel-like taste and faint smoky back note. By comparison, artificial vanilla tends to have a sharp, bitter flavor and distinctly 'chemical' overtones, so using too much artificial vanilla will ruin a dish whereas a slightly heavy hand with the real thing can be forgiven. All vanilla essences and extracts are quite strong; therefore 1 tsp (5 mL) of vanilla extract will be sufficient to flavor a typical sponge cake.

When smelling and touching a soft, black, aromatic vanilla bean it is as if you can feel the hundreds of times this bean has been handled to get it to its perfect state. One can taste the sunshine and balmy nights of sweating that accelerated the enzyme reactions, creating its seductive flavor and true character. Whole vanilla beans can be put into a sugar canister, 1 bean to an average size sugar jar (2 cups/500 mL) is sufficient to always have delicately flavored vanilla sugar in the house. Vanilla beans will flavor custards and fruit compotes, a family favorite being poached pears in champagne. Simply put a whole bean into the pot during cooking, when cooked take the bean out, wash and dry it carefully before returning it to the sugar canister until next time. This method may be utilized a few times, while still getting effective flavor from the one bean. Vanilla is also delicious in savory cooking, because without sugar it is not overtly sweet. There was an innovative Mauritian restaurant in Sydney that served a delicate vanilla chicken in a creamy sauce, which had been flavored with finely chopped vanilla beans. The experience was aromatic and delicate, while being distinctive and beautifully balanced.

Because people now like to experience the colors and textures of ingredients in a great many more recipes, the fashion of using essences in sauces, sorbets, ice-creams and other homogeneous desserts is declining. Wonderful opportunities are being explored, such as adding finely chopped vanilla beans to recipes to make them infinitely more interesting. Some cooks like to slit the vanilla bean in half and scrape out the sticky pulp and microscopic seeds from inside the bean and then add this concentrate to their recipes. When adopting this approach, I still like to infuse the remnants of scraped-out bean with the wet ingredients whenever possible. This is because there are important taste attributes in the black, leathery skin of a vanilla bean that are worth retaining.

Yoghurt Vanilla Cream

2 cups (500 mL) plain yoghurt2 tsp (10 mL) caster sugar1/2 cup (125 mL) whipping cream2 vanilla beans

Line a colander with cheesecloth. Put the yoghurt into the cloth-lined colander and sit it over a bowl. Leave it in the fridge overnight and next day pour away the whey that has collected in the bowl. Empty the drained yoghurt into a bowl, add the sugar and cream. Slit the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape the tiny black seeds out, then add them to the yoghurt/cream mixture. Stir well to combine, then store covered in the fridge. Use it as a wonderful alternative to whipped cream.

Sidebar information included with entry:

Names in Other Languages

  • ARABIC wanila
  • CHINESE hsiang-ts'ao
  • DUTCH vanille
  • FRENCH vanille
  • GERMAN vanille
  • ITALIAN vaniglia
  • JAPANESE banira
  • PORTUGUESE baunilha
  • RUSSIAN vanil'
  • SPANISH vainilla
  • SWEDISH vanilj


Flavor Group

sweet


Weight per Teaspoon (5 ML)

whole average bean 3-4 g each


Suggested Quantity per Pound (500 G)

  • white meats 1 bean
  • carbohydrates 1 bean or 1/2 to 1 tsp (2-5 ML) extract


Complements

  • ice-cream
  • dessert creams
  • cakes
  • biscuits
  • sweets
  • liqueurs


Used in

vanilla sugar


Combines with

  • all spice
  • angelica (crystalized)
  • cardamom
  • cinnamon and cassia
  • cloves
  • ginger
  • lavender
  • lemon myrtle
  • lemon verbena
  • licorice
  • mint
  • nutmeg
  • pandan leaf
  • poppy seeds
  • sesame seeds
  • wattleseed


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