Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24: NO MEAN BEAN – A VANILLA BEAN

Ah, you flavor everything; you are the vanilla of society”
Sydney Smith

When Foodbuzz invited proposals for September’s 24 24 24 I knew it was time to explore my favourite bean, and I’m thrilled they picked me. No, I’m not talking about the French bean, neither the kidney, not the haricot, unfortunately not the java bean…and NO, not even Rowan Atkinson. It was time to get to the heart of the VANILLA BEAN!
My exposure to this intriguing bean, in essence, actually knowledge of it’s very existence came via 2 of my favourite blogs – Canelle et Vanille & Tartlette. Both blogs beautifully inspirational, nurtured by ‘Pastry Chef’ bloggers who are large hearted in terms of sharing their knowledge & vast experience in the world of exotic desserts.
I got my first bean in great anticipation & couldn’t for the love of me believe this old wizened looking thing was ‘the’ bean in question. I soon got a precious tube of Madagascar vanilla beans from the States, & my sister never let me hear the end of it. Then picked up a tube of Indian vanilla beans on a visit to Chennai – 3 for the princely sum of Rs 300! A chance conversation with Ria lead to my discovery of a more affordable & better grade Indian vanilla bean. It’s a fine bean at a fine price. Where would you be able to buy a Grade A vanilla bean at 25 cents?

~~~~~~~

My post today, as part of the Foodbuzz 24 24 24 is a SALUT TO THE VANILLA BEAN’! I briefly explored the history behind the bean, and the varieties of beans available.
A bit of vanilla background…
Vanilla originated in Mexico and for ages no other country in the world has known the secret of its magnificent flavor. First taken out of the country by the Spanish conquistadors, vanilla pods were stolen and replanted in the former Bourbon Island – the actual French Reunion Island. To this day the term “Bourbon” vanilla still applies to vanilla originating from that part of the world.
Vanilla beans are grown in four main areas of the world. Each region produces vanilla beans with distinctive characteristics and attributes. Madagascar is the leading producer in the world, with a quality known among vanilla extract producers as the most distinctive and flavorful – Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla. This is due to a particularly auspicious combination of climate, geography and traditional know-how. Indonesia is the second largest producer of vanilla, with a vanilla that is woody, astringent and phenolic. Madagascar and Indonesia produce 90 percent of the world’s vanilla bean crop.
Mexico & Tahiti are the 2 other major areas of vanilla bean production. Indian vanilla bean production is in very nascent stages, but demand is slowly picking up as they begin to cure the bean the traditional way. It’s popularity is slowly increasing in the international arena.
Once I began using pure natural vanilla extract, the chemical substitute or ‘imitation vanilla essence’ became a thing of the past. I make my own vanilla sugar & pure vanilla extract. At any given time I have 3 bottles of extract on hand – 2 under construction, and 1 in use. It takes a good 4-6 weeks to get the bottle of extract ready.
Good quality vanilla beans & some vodka is all you need. Vanilla sugar is even easier. Just tuck a split and cut vanilla bean into t ajar of sugar, shut tight, give it a good shake every alternate day. By the end of the week you will have the beginnings of sweet smelling vanilla sugar at your disposal! Keep replenishing the sugar as you use it. I even grind my sugar at times, with a piece of vanilla bean and sift it to get vanilla castor sugar!
My post today is a bit lengthy, so I divided it into a couple of sections…
I’ll begin with a VANILLA conversation with Aran @ Canelle et Vanille who was good enough to take time off her busy schedule and sweet talk vanilla with me. Thank you Aran, appreciate your having done this!

Canelle et Vanille’

Aran, a professional pastry chef, is a Basque ex-pat living in the US. She blogs at Cannelle Et Vanille, her blank canvas for creating anything and everything sweet that comes out of her heart. Her beautiful blog reflects the smells and tastes of her childhood.
She is available for recipe development, food styling and photography.Press regarding her blog includes The UK Times Online, Cravings Magazine, BBC’s Olive Magazine, Southern Weddings Magazine, Pastry & Baking Magazine, Saveur.com, Design*Sponge, RealSimple.com, Decor*8 and many other blogs.

1. Your first thoughts when I say ‘vanilla bean’ are…
Warmth, childhood, grandparents
2. Do you find vanilla beans indispensable in your kitchen as a baking ingredient?
Yes, I use it in most of my recipes whether it is as a main ingredient or to enhance a recipe.
3. Do you always have vanilla beans on hand?
Yes, I always buy in bulk as they are cheaper this way and store them tightly wrapped in an airtight container.
4. In a month, how many vanilla beans would you use on an average?
Because they are so expensive, I really stretch the use of my beans. I might go through 10 beans a month (that I always reuse in other forms) and 4 oz of vanilla extract.
5. Do you have a favourite variety of the vanilla bean?
There are many varieties now but Bourbon is still the most readily available and what I tend to use most. Tahitian has a floral note and a bit of a less sweeter aroma, which I really like. I recently tried some African varieties that were excellent as well.
6. What in your opinion is the best way to showcase the flavor of the vanilla bean?
If I am using vanilla bean, I like that to be the main flavor component of the recipe. It really doesn’t need much, just a little steeping or incorporated into a cream is perfection in itself. Also, I think a tiny pinch of salt always enhances the flavor of the vanilla.
7. Have you heard of or used savoury vanilla extract or saffron vanilla extract?
Yes and I actually just recently used vanilla fleur de del in a recipes in my blog (http://cannelle-vanille.blogspot.com/2009/08/vanilla-fleur-de-sel-caramel-and.html). I have heard of saffron vanilla but have never used it myself. Will have to try that soon.
8. What is your favourite recipe using this flavourful bean?
So many… but maybe because we are entering autumn season, the roasted apple and vanilla bean souffle is one of my favorites…(http://cannelle-vanille.blogspot.com/2008/10/roasted-apple-and-vanilla-bean-souffle.html)
♥ Thank you Aran ♥

So much sweet talk and it’s time to unleash a VANILLA based DESSERT onto the post. I had mascarpone on hand, home made & fresh and was looking for a delicious vanilla based end to it. Also had figs and oranges on hand. Twitter to the rescue as usual, and help came via wonderful friend Hilda @ Saffronberry. Ever willing to help anytime, never fails to amaze, she suggested Vanilla Mascarpone Cream Hearts from a gorgeous blog – Nordljus.
So, I made these Vanilla Mascarpone Cream Hearts with an Orange & Dried Fig Compote, inspired by the beautiful dessert on Keiko’s beautiful blog. Thank you Hilda for twittering to my rescue & for the brilliant recipe suggestion. About the dessert – it was an elegant, delectable dessert, and the compote complimented it beautifully.
Vanilla Mascarpone Cream Hearts with Dried Fig & Orange Compote
Adapted from this recipe at Nordljus
Serve 6
Ingredients:
300g Mascarpone (homemade recipe here)
125g vanilla castor sugar
1 vanilla bean
200ml low fat cream, chilled
125g thick plain yogurt
Method:
Chill the bowl and blade of a food processor in the refrigerator.
To make the cream hearts, blend the mascarpone, seeds of 1 vanilla bean and vanilla castor sugar in the food processor until smooth. Scrape the sides of the bowl with a plastic spatula occasionally to keep the mixture evenly distributed. Add the cream and yogurt and blend briefly to incorporate.
Line 6 porcelain heart moulds with a double layer of wet muslin and carefully spoon in the cream mixture until the moulds are full and the surface is even. Put the moulds on a tray with a lip (to catch the whey - important), then cover with plastic film and refrigerate for at least 8 hours before serving.

To serve, lift the cream hearts out of their moulds using the muslin, then invert each heart onto the berries and carefully remove the muslin. Arrange figs and orange segments around, and spoon the compote over the cream heart.

Orange & Dried Fig Compote
Ingredients:
10-15 dried figs, snipped with kitchen scissors
Zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange
Slices of 1 orange, pith etc removed, chopped
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
Some extra figs and orange segments for serving, optional Method:
Simmer everything gently for 10-15 minutes, till soft & syrupy. The syrup will thicken as the compote cools. Cool before use.

To wrap up, I managed to get in touch with 2 vanilla bean producers down in South India to get a sniff of vanilla bean production in India. I am enjoying using my precious beans; you can too if you like. I’ve put the contact details down at the bottom for both the producers!
I’ve have had good fortune of trying out a couple of varieties of vanilla beans, Madagascar included, and find that the Indian Vanilla beans I sampled from Vanilco turned out to be quite good. In my humble opinion, it’s a good quality, flavourful bean, and meets the criteria for a good quality bean. I spoke to Paul Jose, the manager at Vanilco Bean Company, one of the biggest suppliers of vanilla to the ice cream industry.
Vanilco heads a consortium of 2500 vanilla farmers, & in Mr Jose’s words, they face a unique dilemma. The slightly higher price of natural vanilla leads to most ice cream manufacturers using an imitation vanilla or a chemical substitute, so demand for pure vanilla is slack. In India very few manufacturers sell real ice cream, as ‘Ice cream’ is in name only. ‘Frozen Dessert’ is mentioned in small print’, as both vanilla and vanilla ice cream are products with standard identity, and it’s usage would mean higher prices.
Vanilco was the 1st producer complany in India established in 2004. They produce vanilla beans and 39 other value added products for both domestic and international markets. They market their product in selected tourist destinations in South India under the brand name Vanilla India.
They have a diverse range of products which include Savoury vanilla, Saffron vanilla, Vanilla Cocoa powder, Vanilla tea / coffee, Vanilla paste and Vanilla sugar. The beans are not expensive compared to their US and European counter parts. In South India 1 vanilla pod will cost only around Rs. 5 to 10 (US$1=Rs48 … so you can get 4-5 beans, sometimes more, for a $). His message – The only way to promote natural vanilla is to create awareness among the public that natural vanilla is available in India, and that it’s better to use as compared to chemical substitutes.
VANILLA INDIA PRODUCER COMPANY LTD.
Tel – +91 484 5599233, Cell +91 9349 256746
(Disclaimer: The pictures included above are not reflective of the Vanilco product. They are the author’s pictures)
.

I found that this sentiment echoes across the sector. John.P. John, CEO of Tharakan & Company, another major vanilla bean producer in India since 2000, said the same thing.

Thakaran and Company market their product under the brand name ‘Nature’s Nurture’, and are willing to courier their products to domestic consumers. They are manufacturers of finished good from vanilla beans, apart from being a supplier of the bean. They claim to be the only manufacturer of Natural Vanilla Extract with Cold process technology, which gives both aroma and taste of vanilla.They also manufacture Pure Natural Vanilla Powder, Natural vanilla Paste, Vanilla seeds etc, supplying vanilla beans in transparent tubes and vacuum pouches to the domestic market. They also offer it worldwide.In his words… Most vanilla beans under production either head for export are are used for vanilla extract. Per se, the vanilla bean is still struggling to find demand in the local market.
Tharakan & Company,
Ph +91 481 2516619/ +91 481 2516119
Cell +91 94470 37383

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Comments

  1. Rosa's Yummy Yums says:

    I love that flavor! Not only is it good in desserts and baked treats, but also in savory dishes!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Curry Leaf says:

    WONDERFUL POST.I had bookmarked the mascarpone recipe and it seems the compote is giving me enough reasons to try it.I too admire Aran.LOVED the Post Deeba.
    Thank Gd,there is no Mr Bean!. :)Cheers

  3. Kamran Siddiqi says:

    OMG! You are amazing!! I love all of the photos and I love how much effort you put into each and every one of your posts! You truly are amazing!

  4. This is gorgeous Deeba! Deliciously autumnal. I especially love the shot of the beans going through the fig. Your pictures are always entirely too yummy. Mmmmm…mascarpone heart.

  5. Beautiful post. Wonderful combination of flavors.
    Mimi

  6. Madhuli says:

    Lovely post Deeba.I have some vanilla beans I got from coorg and didn't know what to do!Now I know thanks

  7. Gera @ SweetsFoods says:

    Amazing post with hard work for you resulting in an excellent article!

    Adore vanilla in all the baked things and desserts, is such a versatile flavor :)

    All the best!

    Gera

  8. Asha @ FSK says:

    Deeba! That is awesome information!!! thanks so much. Rs. 5 a pod!!! and here in US it is $8 for a pod of Madagascar beans… Am visiting home later this year. Now, I can pick up a suitcase of the beans!!! :))))))

  9. lisa (dandysugar) says:

    Fantastic and absolutely gorgeous post. I love using vanilla bean in my recipes, however, I did not realize there were so many variations in flavor! This is really wonderful information.

  10. ♥♥♥Ria♥♥♥ says:

    Good job Deeba :)I am so glad you got all the info on time :)

  11. Dharm says:

    Love the post and I love the bean too!! Came looking for the V-a-v… not done or posting late???

  12. Mowie @ Mowielicious says:

    Wow – great post Deeba! Love the mix of history, photography, interview, recipe – all in one… makes for a great, informative post. Also love the way it was partially inspired by Hilda =)

    I always try and use vanilla bean myself instead of vanilla essence. There's something so absolutely stunning about the smell of a fresh vanilla bean that's just been cut open. Probably one of my favourite smells right up there with freshly cut grass, and just-sharpened pencils.

    Also – I absolutely adore the reflection of light on the bottles (is it from a skylight?).

  13. Fantastic post Deeba – with wonderful photos as usual. You never cease to amaze me – making your own vanilla extract. Wow! I do store the vanilla beans I've used for poaching in the sugar jar though (dried first of course) – very simple way to get vanilla smelling sugar.

  14. glamah16 says:

    Outstanding post! I was shocked at first you couldn't source Indian beans, but later I see you have. Chef mentioned them as one area to watch for beans. Beautiful pictures and great idea for 24, 24, 24. Aran is a whiz with pastry and so nice.

  15. Gloria says:

    Deeba I love vanilla!! Is wonderful, I cant live without vanilla, and aht georgeous pictures! really wonderful and lovely!! and yummy! xoxoxoxogloria

  16. Barbara Bakes says:

    I have a jar of vanilla sugar in my pantry that I used in my macs, but I haven't thought to use it in anything else. I had better get shaking it and get baking with it! Thanks for all the info!

  17. meeso says:

    Ah, vanilla, I can't imagine not having vanilla in the kitchen! Once I ran out and made some cookies without it and they were AWFUL! I hadn't realized up to that point just how important it is!

  18. Happy cook says:

    WHen we were in Munnar / Kerala i bought 75 beans of vanilla, per Rs 10 a stick, which is a realy bargain as before i used to buy almost 4 euros for 2 here.
    Loved the post.

  19. Lauren says:

    Yum!! All of the vanilla looks amazing =D.

  20. Hilda says:

    How do you do it Deeba? These long awesome posts, the beautiful pictures, the twittering, the mommying, the baking. You're a superwoman!

  21. Nicisme says:

    I adore vanilla, everytime I see yours I'm in heaven! Great post, v. interesting!

  22. Helene says:

    Such a great post. Also you did an amazing job for the pictures. :)

  23. Chow and Chatter says:

    oh what a great post I adore your blog Deeba so pleased I found it Rebecca

  24. Arwen from Hoglet K says:

    That's really interesting. I've wondered about trying to grow vanilla orchid, but it sounds like getting it to pollinate and bear beans is hard. Apparently the flowers only open briefly, and without a moth to pollinate them you need to do it by hand.

  25. Lisa Michelle says:

    Deeba, first off..WOW WOW WOW! I knew whatever you did with this challenge would blow my mind, and it always does, even more than I expect it to! I loved the vanilla bean info, as I always chuck my used beans into a separate crock of vanilla sugar. It's been going 5years strong now – and, I have a bottle of extract I made with brandy, which I've also had for years, but have yet to use it for some reason. It just doesn't smell as great as my Nielsen-Massey pure vanilla, and I'm worried it'll affect the flavor, as in, not strong enough, although it was packed with beans.

    That said, your food styling, flavors and photos are beyond outstanding..as always!! Perfect puff pastry too, considering the humidity!

  26. Michelle {Brown Eyed Baker} says:

    What a wonderful post!! You can certainly tell how much time and love you put into it. I enjoyed learning even more about vanilla beans!

  27. 5 Star Foodie says:

    Wonderful post! Excellent info on vanilla and Vanilla Mascarpone Cream Hearts sound just delightful!

  28. Chuck says:

    I love the smell, flavor and even the look of vanilla. I could bath in it, that's how much I love the stuff lol. Wonderful post!

  29. raquel of Cafe Nilson says:

    deeba, i am beyond speechless! that is truly an amazing post (foodbuzz or not). and that vanilla mascarpone cream heart look really delectable.

    congratulations!

  30. Peter M says:

    Deeba, your idea to focus on the vanilla bean is novel and I'm indeed very hungry.

    Your post is organized, informative and very classy…just like you. Congrats!

  31. What a great post and so much information about vanilla beans. I used to think I wasn't a vanilla fan until I started experimenting with vanilla beans last year. Nice work!

  32. oneofagrind says:

    Very informative Deeba! I've already opened the links you've provided.

    Thanks!

  33. lisaiscooking says:

    So interesting, and so many lovely beans! You've inspired me again. Now, I have to make my own vanilla extract.

  34. couchpapaya says:

    Hi Deeba, I've been following your blog and love everything about it esp the delectable pics. Loved the thoroughness of this post! I had a question about making vanilla extract at home – after soaking the bean in vodka for 4-6 weeks is it ready to be used or is there anything else to be done? Thanks a ton!!

  35. Holly says:

    Great food and pictures as always. Love the vanilla info. Did you know vanilla is grown in Hawaii. I have a plant but it has not flowered as of yet.

  36. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella says:

    You're so comprehensive with your posts! Oh and by the way I made the mascarpone according to your recipe and it was fab :)

  37. Bharti says:

    Grade A Vanilla bean for 25 cents?
    Lucky you Deeba. They are so expensive out here. Everything and all the pictures look beautiful as usual.

  38. Nate-n-Annie says:

    Hello fellow "24"er!

    What a great, informative post. I never knew there was a vanilla production industry in India, though it surely makes sense. You have the climate for it.

    I wonder if I can find any Malaysian vanilla? Malaysia's right next door to Indonesia after all.

  39. stephchows says:

    Beautiful 24 write up!! AND WOW!!! Everything looks amazing!!

  40. Thanks for the info on where I can get some good quality vanilla beans.. Last week, I bought 5 pods for 95 bucks here in Chennai with no info on the pack as to what variety it even is!! Was super disappointed with the smell of the pods (did it even exist?? :( )!!

  41. vineeta says:

    amazing post!!!! new to this food blogging thing n was astonished to see all u wonderful bloggers who r engaged so beautifully in their world……love to know more abt cooking baking n ingredient associated with it….gr8 work done!!!!

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