Vanilla is one of the best known, appreciated and used spices in the world.. However, before using it in the kitchen, some doubts may arise, as it is common to confuse two of its forms: vanilla essence and vanilla extract.
It is interesting to know the characteristics of each one. In this way it will be possible to choose the most appropriate one and know at all times which product it is.
Vanilla essence and extract: an introduction to the spice
Vanilla is one of the most used condiments in the world. It has around 200 volatile compounds which give it a wide variety of flavor profiles. These change depending on the variety or type of crop.
The natural presentation is the fruit of the plant in pod form, though AND scarce and with a high price. For this reason, the industry has responded to the interest of developing a cheaper and easier to obtain version: artificial vanillas or essences.
The first to cultivate vanilla were the Totonac Indians of Mexico, for whom it represented a cultural symbol. They sent it to the Aztecs, who used it to flavor chocolate drinks.
Today it is also added to dairy preparationssuch as yogurt or ice cream, to make creams and as a flavoring in many products.
How do you get vanilla?
True vanilla comes from the flower of an orchid: the vanilla planifolia. It is native to Central America, from where it spread to Europe. Subsequently the French introduced it in the African islands of the Indian Ocean: Madagascar, Réunion and Comore, which are today the main suppliers.
Its pod-shaped fruit is harvested 6 to 9 months after pollination. It should measure about 20cm. Inside are thousands of seeds surrounded by nutrients: sugars, fats, amino acids and phenols.
These are harvested when they are still green and to obtain the pod, as it is known on the market, it undergoes a seasoning process which consists of 3 phases:
- In a first stage it is exposed to high temperatures with solar heat, immersion in boiling water or steam.
- It is then spread out in the sun and alternately protected with a cloth for a few days. With heat, some of the moisture in the pod evaporates and microbial growth is inhibited.
- In a third stage, it is ironed and smoothed by hand and left to dry for a few weeks.. Subsequently, a storage time is required during which it acquires a more pronounced flavor and aroma. For example, in Madagascar they do it for 40 days and in Mexico for a few months.
How is vanilla extract obtained?
To obtain the vanilla extract we start from the original fruit of the plant. The pods are macerated in a mixture of ethyl alcohol and water. In this way all the compounds and aromas of the fruit pass into the liquid. THE vanillin It is one of those that gives it the most powerful taste and smell.
It is a pure product, in which only the liquids necessary to extract the active principles of the original fruit are used. Its aging allows it to develop a more complex and deep flavour.
to exist specific regulations which allow the quality control of the vanilla extract. For example, in the United States it must contain at least 35% alcohol and about 400 grams of vanilla beans per 4 litres.
Moreover, the possibility of adding further ingredients, such as sugar, dextrose or glycerin, is regulated. Only the product obtained in this way can be labeled as vanilla extract.
How is vanilla essence obtained?
Vanilla essence is prepared synthetically and It is a product that mimics the aroma and flavor of fruit, but it does not come directly from him.
THE vanillin it is the main aromatic component of the pods. Other substances are used in the synthetic manufacturing process, such as pine bark, clove oil, lignin or rice bran. In addition, added ingredients are used in the preparation, such as water, ethanol, emulsifiers and chemical extracts.
Vanilla essence and vanilla extract: what are the main differences?
naked eye, it is difficult to distinguish them and know which one is more convenient to use. However, its origin, its possible applications and the final price are very different.
Getting vanilla the traditional way is a laborious process. Each flower is hand pollinated and the curing and resting applied to the pods can last anywhere from weeks to months.
Also, there are few regions cultivation and production. For these two reasons, the high price of natural vanilla extract and pods is understandable. Due, Most of it consumed in the world today is of synthetic origin.
As we have seen when explaining the production process, the way to obtain vanilla essence and extract is very different. While one is a natural derivativethe other is a synthetic imitation of its main component.
Its possible uses
Both are used in the manufacture of food products, but given the difference in price and quality, these can change significantly. The food industry uses vanilla essence in the production of chocolates, candies, biscuits and cereals.
If, on the other hand, the goal is to obtain products of superior quality or in which vanilla is one of the main protagonists, it is preferable to choose vanilla extract. Manufacturers of ice cream or yogurt in the USA have to use natural extracts in their preparation, as otherwise they cannot label their products in this way.
Vanilla essence and extract in gastronomy
The differences between the two products are obvious. highlighting among them the higher quality, flavor and aroma of the extract compared to the essence. Therefore, when it is needed in small quantities, it is preferable to use the extract.
There are other ways to present this precious spice in the kitchen. Both the essence and the vanilla extract can be substituted for the pulp from the pod or pure vanilla powder.
Given the high cost of the extract and the possible difficulty of finding it on the market, you can choose to make it at home from pods and alcohol to make them macerate.
Although its main use is in sweet recipes and preparations, it is never too late to experiment in the kitchen and try to introduce this delicate spice into meat, fish and other savory dishes.
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