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Cooking with Vanilla  by Mary Wasserman

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-   VANILLA PLANET  -

How to Buy Vanilla Extract

 

Supermarket, gourmet stores, specialty stores and many other outlets  carry vanilla extract. There are also many web sites selling vanilla extracts.  Some of the brands are very familiar since they had been around since our grandmother or before. New vanilla extracts appears on the shelves almost weekly. Here are few important tips to help you chose the real vanilla extract.  In the USA vanilla extract has a standard of identity as described by the FDA.  There are only 2 spices of vanilla that allowed to use in food:

 

  • Vanilla planifolia ( growing in Madagascar, Mexico, India, Indonesia ,Uganda and other)

  • Vanilla tahitensis, (growing in Tahiti and Papua New Guinea , mainly)

 

A product can be called vanilla extract only if it contains a minimum of 1 fold extract. A fold has to contain 13.35OZ of properly cured vanilla beans, not more then 25% moisture, in 1 gallon of water and at least 35% alcohol.  Vanilla extract in addition can contain sugar, corn syrup, glycerin and propylene glycol. This is a simple version.

 

  • Look for familiarity.  If the brand is known and you used it is the past, it is safe to use it again. Using a familiar brand not necessary provide you with the best Vanilla extract.

  • The ingredient list. The ingredients have to be listed from highest to the lowest amount.  The ingredients for a basic vanilla extract should appear in the following order: water, alcohol, vanilla beans extractives.  If other permitted ingredient are added they should follow the same consistent order. 

  • Vanillin. Vanillin, a major flavor ingredient in vanilla extract, is not require to be labeled. If it is mentioned on the label, for example, ‘double the intensity of vanillin’, one should be suspicious of adulteration. Many vanilla extracts on the retail market today have vanillin, ethyl vanillin or other ingredients added. Many products labeled ‘vanilla extract’ contain little or no vanilla extract. It should be carry a label stating Artificial vanilla.

  • Read the label.  If you can not read the script on the label or the list of ingredient or the attached story, do not buy.

  • Certification Symbols. Symbols like Organic, Kashrut (Jewish law)  are very important to look for. Organization that issue these certification are usually giving it to industrial set ups. A bottle with no certification more likely had been bottle at home with out any supervision. For example, a vanilla extract bearing a Kosher certification contain Kosher beans, Kosher ingredients and extracted and bottled under Kosher supervision in  a Kosher approved facility. The same principle applies to Organic certification.

  • Blending Vanilla Extract.   The law allows us to blend beans or extracts and we do not require to specify the origin, however when the origin on the bottle say 100% Madagascar bourbon, one should expect 100% Madagascar bourbon

  • Single Origin.  Some bottles bear the statement ‘Tahitian vanilla’. One expects that the extract is made from vanilla beans grown only in the island of Tahiti.

  • Tahitian Extract. Beans from Tahiti command much higher price than beans from other origins. One expects,then, that price of Tahitian vanilla extract will be higher. If you come across a bottle with a price comparable to vanilla extract from other origins be skeptical.

  • PNG Beans. The vanilla beans grown in PNG and Tahiti are the same species; Vanilla tahitensis.  However, while the Tahitian  beans are costly those from PNG are affordable. Be careful not to pay for extract made with beans from PNG (although very nice extract) for the price of beans from Tahiti.

  • Specs. Specs is another name to vanilla  seed. The seed do not contains any flavors component, although many people associate the seed with flavors. On the other hand seed gives a nice look to ice creams. The seed in vanilla extract will precipitate to the bottom of the bottle since they heavy. Specs will not add any additional flavors. In the vanilla beans the seed are in the middle of the bean and surrounded by special cells that produces vanillin and other flavors. From this finding many chefs believe the inside of the beans and the seed are contains flavors. Extract that contains seed is seed that had been washed and nothing cover it.  One need to be carful and if looking for specs it is better to buy beans or ground beans.

  • Vanilla extract should be stored in a dark, glass bottle. Vanilla extract contains many different phenols, which are sensitive to light - tinted, dark glass bottles are the preferred way to store vanilla extract.