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Vanilla: Extract and Info

March 16, 2009

vanilla extract in progress

So, remember those vanilla beans that I ordered.  Well, for the past few weeks they’ve been happily marinating in vodka.  You can see the progress they’ve made in the photo above.  They’ve still got at least 4 more weeks to go, but they are coming along nicely.

To make the vanilla, I first sterilized each of the bottles by boiling it for 10 minutes.  I then filled each bottle with vodka (about 1 cup per bottle) and added a vanilla bean and its caviar (what the inner filling of the bean is called).  You could easily use more vodka for each vanilla bean — my bottles just wouldn’t hold any more.

I’m storing them in my dark storage closet.  For the first week I gave them a shake everyday.  Now I’m shaking them a lot less frequently — maybe a few times a week.

Over the course of researching and purchasing my vanilla beans I’ve accumulated a lot of information about vanilla beans that I thought I’d share.  There are a variety of types of vanilla bean: Madagascar Bourbon and the Tahitian are the most common.  Many people assume that the Madagascar vanilla bean has to come from Madagascar and the Tahitian from Tahiti.  However, this is not the case.  These are simply the species (if that is the correct term) of the vanilla orchid.  It is important to note that these beans have different qualities.  The Bourbon bean has a longer finish and is less aromatic, while the Tahitian has a more delicate flavor and is more aromatic.  Bourbon beans are usually recommended for baking, while Tahitian beans are recommended for fruits and pastries where they aromatic quality and delicate flavor will be able to shine (though they can be used in anything).  However, I’ve read mixed reviews of which to use for vanilla extract.  Some people promote the use of pure Bourbon vanilla, while other people claim to get the best of both worlds (aromatic and long finish) by using a combination of the two beans.  I have not experimented with this yet (though I have both types of beans) — I stuck with pure Bourbon for my first attempt.  Basically, it is really up to you and your experimentation.  I’m not sure I’m expert enough to really be able to tell the difference yet. More experimenting is definitely required!

Next, vanilla beans come in all sorts of sizes and qualities.  The ones I used are really higher quality than I’d need to use for extract.  The qualities are graded ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C.’  ‘A’ and ‘B’ are the ones cooks generally use.  ‘C’ grade beans are usually used for things such as scented candles where the vanilla will not be consumed.  ‘B’ grade beans feature splits, dents and discoloration, but are perfectly suitable for making things like vanilla extract.  The ‘B’ grade can also apply to ‘short’ beans (I’ll delve a bit more into the bean lengths in a little bit).  ‘A’ grade beans are plump, moist beans that have flawless (or nearly flawless) exteriors unlike the grade ‘B’ beans.

The basics to understanding the lengths of beans is simple.  The longer the bean the more caviar it has in it. The more caviar a bean has, the more expensive it is.  Pretty simple huh?

Finally, buy vanilla beans in bulk.  They are so much cheaper that way, and you can keep them for 1-2 years as long as you store them in a sealed package in a cool dark location.  The beans I purchased averaged $1-2 each versus in store purchase which averages (at least where I live) around $9-10 each.

For further research, I recommend these two sites:

The Organic Vanilla Bean Company
Amadeus Vanilla Beans

I ordered my vanilla beans from Amadeus Vanilla Beans and am very happy with them, but through my research, I found a number of other places that also had positive reviews and looked promising.

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