All About Vanilla
Vanilla is perhaps the most indispensible flavoring in any kitchen! Learn how vanilla beans are grown and pollinated and how to choose and store vanilla beans.
Remarkably aromatic, delightfully sensuous. Frontier invites you to steep yourself in the history, legend, science and culinary enchantment this exotic spice has inspired since its discovery.
What is vanilla?
Vanilla comes from the long, greenish-yellow seedpods of a fragrant tropical vanilla orchid. Only two species — Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitensis (Tahitian vanilla) — are cultivated for commercial use as a flavoring or fragrance. Vanilla is grown commercially in Madagascar, Mexico, Indonesia, and Tahiti.
Where did it originate?
Vanilla was first cultivated by the Totonec people of Mexico. In the 15th century the Aztecs conquered the Totonec and required tribute in the form of vanilla beans. Later, the Spanish Conquistadors were indoctrinated into the joys of vanilla when they conquered the Aztecs. And they, in turn, introduced vanilla to Europe.
How is it grown?
Vanilla orchids are grown as a vine and hand-pollinated. Seven to eight months after pollination, the beans are harvested by hand and undergo a complicated curing process. The full cultivation story is truly remarkable, if you’ve got a minute.
The legend of Princess Xanat
According to Totonac mythology, the vanilla orchid was born when a princess, forbidden by her father from marrying a mortal, fled to the forest with her lover. The lovers were captured and beheaded. Where their blood touched the ground, the strong vine and delicate orchid grew.
How to choose and store good vanilla beans
Premium quality vanilla beans have a rich, full aroma and are oily to the touch. They should be pliable enough to bend without breaking, and they should be dark brown (almost black).
Vanilla beans will keep indefinitely if stored properly in an airtight container in a cool, dark place, or if they are vacuum-packed. While it's important to keep vanilla beans cool to avoid mildew, they should not be refrigerated or frozen, as this causes them to harden and lose flavor.
If you're using high-quality Bourbon beans, you may notice after time that they have developed crystals (these often resemble white fur), an indicator that the beans are high in natural vanillin and of good quality. This is a natural process and a delicious one, at that. Enjoy the crystals — they're full of flavor!
If your vanilla beans have dried out, simply add them to warm liquid to draw out the flavor. A dry bean pod added to a mug of hot chocolate or a cup of hot tea results in a delicious experience!
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