As I got older and learned there were more flavors to explore, "31" or so on a monthly basis, I still stuck with some variation of chocolate. Once I started cooking and experimenting with "fancy" desserts that called for pure vanilla extract or vanilla beans, I ate less chocolate ice-cream and more vanilla as I began to discover how complex something as simple as vanilla is.
Did you know ...
- Vanilla was first cultivated in Mexico, in the state that is currently known as Veracruz?
- Most of the world's vanilla comes from Madagascar, Indonesia, Mexico and Tahiti but is also grown in Costa Rica, India, Uganda and Jamaica?
- Vanilla is the only fruit-bearing member of the orchid family and is harvested only once a year?
- Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron due to the intensive manual labor needed to grow the vanilla pods?
- Flowering normally occurs in the spring and must be pollinated within 12 hours of the blossom opening ... all pollination is now done by hand since the only insect capable of doing this is the Melipona bee which is native to Mexico?
Not so ordinary now, huh? And all vanillas don't necessarily taste the same ... each of the major types of vanilla has it's own characteristics and suggested uses, for example:
Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla is an overall versatile vanilla with a rich, creamy mellow flavor and velvety overtones. It is ideal for baking and cooking -- sweet or savory. It is perfect in cakes, cookies and pastries. It adds a touch of sweetness to succulent seafood sauces or marinades and cuts the acidity of tangy tomato sauces.
Tahitan Vanilla has fruity, anisic notes that enhance fruit dishes such as cranberry sauce or cherries jubilee. Its delicate flavor is best used in recipes that do not require high heat such as refrigerated and frozen desserts, pastry creams, fruit pies and sauces, smoothies, shakes, puddings and custards.
Mexican Vanilla offers a deep spicy flavor and spices up citrus fruits such as lemons, limes and oranges but can also mellow out the bitterness of dark chocolate. It cuts the acidity and smooths out the heat in spicy tomato-based dishes. Try it in cookies, cakes, frozen desserts, barbecue and spaghetti sauces, and salsas.
Check out Nielsen-Massey's site for more cool info on vanilla!