Friday, July 8, 2016

How to choose and store vanilla extract

In this post we discuss how to choose and store 100% pure vanilla, not just Tahitian vanilla, but any type of vanilla. If you want to learn about the differences between Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla, Mexican vanilla, and Tahitian vanilla, click here.

So you’re in the market for pure vanilla extract to flavor your cookies and cakes, or perhaps a savory dish like Tahitian Vanilla Seared Sea Scallops with Lemon Coconut Risotto and Vanilla Bean Buerre Blanc. You’re perusing the offerings at the grocery store and notice the price of pure vanilla extract is quite a bit higher, up to 200 times the price of artificial or imitation vanilla flavoring. What gives? After saffron, pure vanilla is the most expensive thing you can use to flavor food. Why is that? Because it literally takes years to grow, pollinate, harvest, and cure premium vanilla. And most of that hard work is done by hand. So enterprising business folk can usually find a cheaper way to produce something similar. Similar, is the operative word, but not exactly pure.

What to look for on the label when choosing pure vanilla extract
Vanilla is vanilla is vanilla, right? Wrong. Some extracts have more or less alcohol, or sugar, or additives that may or may not be natural. You can learn a lot from the information on the label. Pure vanilla extract must be labelled as such. Here is what to look for:
  • Make sure the vanilla extract has at least 35% alcohol, minimum. More alcohol content results in a smoother, richer flavor. 
  • Check for unnecessary additives (such as sugar), preservatives, or coloring. Pure vanilla extract will have no additives, or preservatives, and will be be amber in color. 
  • If possible, smell the extract. The best quality products will have a rich, perfumed aroma. 
Any vanilla extract that is NOT 100% pure will be labeled with one of the following:
  • vanilla flavor – derived from synthetic substances 
  • natural vanilla flavor – derived from natural flavors other than the vanilla bean
  • imitation vanilla – derived from synthetic substances
  • artificial vanillin* – derived from wood, a paper industry byproduct
  • natural vanillin* – derived from natural substances, not necessarily the vanilla bean
  • ethyl vanillin* – derived from a coal tar derivative
  • coumarin – derived from the tonka bean and toxic in large quantities, often found in very cheap Mexican vanilla

So now you know what to look for. The warning of caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) really comes in handy when choosing pure vanilla. You may be surprised to know there is quite a difference between brands. Consider testing a few brands side-by-side to learn the differences, as well as your personal preferences. 
Take out the magnifying glass and read the small type on the label to make sure you are getting 100% pure, unadulterated, real, natural, vanilla extract.

If want to be absolutely sure what is in your extract, and you’re the do-it-yourself type, it’s easy to make your own Tahitian vanilla extract. All you need is natural vanilla beans, alcohol, and time. Keep those few ingredients in mind as you read the labels.

Storing vanilla
Vanilla extract, beans, powder, and paste should be stored in an airtight container in a cool, dark, dry place. Avoid extreme temperatures, and moist, humid, warm places. Vanilla extract actually improves with age. When stored properly, vanilla extract will last indefinitely.

General starting point equivalencies for Vanilla From Tahiti:
1 tbsp extract (1X) = 1 vanilla bean = 1⁄2 tbsp ground powder = 1 tsp vanilla bean paste (3X).

Buy 100% pure Vanilla From Tahiti online.

*Vanillin, the primary component of the extract of the vanilla bean, is an organic compound. Vanillin is only one of hundreds of natural flavor compounds and substances that flavor vanilla beans. In our humble opinion, vanillin compromises the flavor, aroma, and health benefits of baked goods.

Bake With Love. Vanilla From Tahiti.