When it comes to spices, you can’t help but think of China and India, of these aromatic and tea cultures. However, not all spices are Asian: vanilla is American. Originally from Mexico, it is a broad bean extracted from an orchid called Vanilla Planifolia. These beans are harvested and put to dry in the sun, so they take on their dark and wrinkled shape, with a waxed aspect. At the end of this process, they gain their striking flavor and floral aroma, becoming the spice that we know and that the confectionery loves so much.
The Aztecs, even before the Maya, already used vanilla to flavor drinks derived from cocoa. Spanish colonizers took this condiment to Europe and it was very well accepted; France took the orchid to Madagascar, where they managed to grow it. Today, Mexico, Madagascar, Tahiti and Indonesia are the largest producers in the world, but in Brazil we already have good producers of organic vanilla.
Vanilla bean is the second most expensive spice in the world, second only to saffron in pistils. Due to its high cost to obtain the spice, the industry has developed a synthetic version of vanillin (essential oil of vanilla), it is an undeniably more economical alternative, but it leaves much to be desired in the face of real vanilla.
What’s behind the sweetness of vanilla? It has antioxidant action, which is very important to accompany preparations with fats such as milk, cream, egg yolks and butter, prevents cell aging, antidepressant, helps in the production of the sensation of pleasure, it is the type of ingredient that makes us eat more slowly, sometimes even closing the eye, it has antimicrobial function, is an aphrodisiac and has B vitamins, calcium, iron, manganese, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
Vanilla can also be purchased processed in the following ways:
- Vanilla Extract: It is an alcoholic infusion. (Learn how to do it by clicking here!)
- Vanilla Paste: Product more concentrated than the Extract and less alcoholic.
- Natural Essence: Softest of all but very practical and cheaper.
Attention, always read the ingredients on the labels of the products you buy. The legislation determines that they are listed in order of volume, that is, first the ingredient with the highest quantity, following the others in decreasing order. And in the case of buying a vanilla bean, it is always worth remembering how spices should be preserved: dry pot, well closed and out of the light.