Vanilla beans are a great way of adding flavor to a dish. As well as enriching desserts and cakes, more and more chefs and home cooks alike are using vanilla to liven-up savory dishes, including meat. Vanilla beans are becoming more and more versatile. Understandably for some people the hassles that come with preparing beans is too much. In an increasingly time restricted age it’s often quicker to just reach for a prepared jar. Doing so needn’t mean opting for a weaker substitute though.
Authentic extract of Vanilla Beans
Vanilla beans, particularly those of the Bourbon variety found in Madagascar, are rich in taste, flavor, perfume and color. It should come as no surprise then that they are popular with chefs and cooks around the world. Many of these choose to utilize authentic extracts rather than the beans themselves.
The main benefit of vanilla extract, like other substitutes, is its handiness. Although vanilla extract provides a more convenient alternative to beans (at least for the consumer) it is just as flavorsome. Some may even argue more so. The extract is created by percolating vanilla beans and soaking them in an alcoholic solution. The process tends to take at least two to three weeks, a period of time that ensures the extract has been fermented with the bean’s wonderful attributes.
Authentic vanilla extract can be added to any number of recipes, from simple snacks to lavish banquets, and is almost certain to excite the palate. Unlike lesser vanilla ‘essences’, the extract is rich and distinctive, and also maintains the integrity of vanilla beans.
Vanilla beans in powder form
Vanilla powder, like extract, allows its user to quickly add to a recipe without the fussiness of vanilla beans. One of the benefits of vanilla in its powder form is that it can be used to sprinkle onto dishes. For example, unlike the beans or seeds, powder is ideal for dusting onto everything from cakes to fresh fruit. A small helping can even add new life to your morning cereal.
The process for creating vanilla powder from vanilla beans is simpler than that of authentic vanilla extract. First the bean should be split in half, using a sharp knife and wax paper (to prevent any seeds escaping). The bean is then thoroughly dried out, which can be accomplished either by leaving to stand for a few days, or by using the oven. Once the bean is dry it can be broken and placed in a blender. The resulting powder can be used immediately. It is especially tasty when added to coffee, and can be added to sugar for extra pang.
Transforming vanilla beans to paste
Pure vanilla paste, not to be mistaken for vanilla ‘flavored’ paste, is another alternative to vanilla beans that is rich in taste and held in high regard when compared to beans themselves. It is another ingredient that can be stored easily and lasts for an extended period of time.
Vanilla Paste uses all parts of vanilla beans. As with the powder, beans are split in half and left to thoroughly dry out (or assisted using an oven), after which they are placed in a blender or spice grinder. The result should again be a fine powder. Corn flour, or an alternative thickening agent, is then added carefully to the powder, never more than a teaspoon at a time. With the right consistency a fine paste is formed.
Vanilla paste is ideal for baking, particularly the likes of cupcakes. It can be added to the cake mixture or used for frosting and icing, as well as providing a rich addition to custard. Some chefs and cooks even use vanilla paste in their savory cooking sauces, something that might strike you as being a little odd, but is guaranteed to give the taste buds of you and your fellow diners something to think about.
Whilst we’ve looked at all of the above as being convenient alternatives to vanilla beans, it’s also worth noting that each can be prepared in the comfort of your own kitchen. Pastes, powders and extracts have a lot more going for them than simple quickness. Such derivatives also allow for cooks and chefs to potentially expand the shelf-life of vanilla beans.