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Pure Vanilla Extract

Pure Vanilla Extract is very expensive but OHH so delicious. Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron. One reason pure vanilla carries such a hefty price tag is due to the labor intensive hand-pollination and hand-harvesting required to produce the final product. Even after harvesting, there is at least another 6 months of manual labor where the beans are soaked in hot water and allowed to sweat on flats in the sun before preparing them for a slow fermentation period. 

Vanilla, only harvested once a year, is the fruit of an orchid plant which grows in the form of a bean pod. It can take up to 3 years from the time of planting before the orchid plant begins to produce. Most of the worlds vanilla is grown mainly in 4 countries: Madagascar, Indonesia, Mexico and Tahiti. Limited amounts of vanilla are also grown in Jamaica, Uganda, Costa Rica and India.

Did you know that vanilla comes in something other than liquid form? Vanilla is also available in paste and powder form packing an even more intense flavor punch. My favorite is Vanilla Paste (and yes, a little goes a long, long way). The paste has a consistency between molasses and syrup and holds hundreds of vanilla seeds in suspension which gives your final food product an intense vanilla deliciousness (both aroma & taste), in addition to a gourmet appearance. When you open a bottle of vanilla bean paste, the vanilla scent permeates the entire room and causes your mouth to water and your mind to drift into dessert land (not a bad place to drift off to, right?).

If you would like to dabble into pure vanilla deliciousness, I recommend Nielsen Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Bean Paste (shown). Nielsen Massey also sells some of the very best Vanilla Extract. These items are available at:  Whole Foods, Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table.  They can also be purchased online at Amazon and www.kingarthurflour.com.  

For those DIYers out there, I have a quick recipe for making homemade Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract:

DIY - Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract

6-8 Madagascar Vanilla Beans split lengthwise (or any vanilla bean that is available in your area)

½ cup Bourbon, high grade

1½ cups Vodka, high grade (if using flavored, vanilla would be best)

Combine ingredients in a jar with a tight fitting lid that is tall enough to accommodate all of the vanilla beans.  Vanilla beans should be completely covered by the alcohol.  Store in a dark, cool location out of direct heat and light for a minimum of one month (however, the longer the curing period, the better). The mixture will become amber after day 2 or 3. Shake jar every few days to distribute the vanilla seeds throughout the mixture. Once you begin using the extract, replenish with more vanilla beans and alcohol to maintain your supply. 

Routinely check the vanilla beans to ensure they maintain a strong vanilla scent. If you detect that a bean(s) no longer has a strong vanilla fragrance, discard and replace with a fresh, split vanilla bean.

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