The Importance of Where Your Vanilla Beans Come From
Vanilla, as an extract, powder, or paste, is the second-most expensive spice after saffron. This is because it’s grown in very unprofitable conditions and has a very short growing season. Vanilla needs humid conditions and needs to be pollinated by hand where the Melipona bees are not there.
Does it matter what country or region our Vanilla bean comes from? Do they come from a certain region that produces the best vanilla beans? What sort of soil and climate do these regions need? Are there other factors that affect the quality of your vanilla beans? Let’s take a look at where you get your vanilla beans from and why this is important.
Why is the Origin Where Your Vanilla Beans Come From Important?
The quality of your vanilla beans is closely linked to their origins. Let’s start by defining what "good quality" vanilla beans mean. Vanilla is graded on a scale. Grade A is the best quality. Grade B is the standard grade and Grade C is the lowest quality. The grading scale is based on the length, color, plump, fullness of caviar, and the natural oils.
Grade A vanilla beans are the longest and darkest. These have the strongest flavor and are used for gourmet purposes. Grade B vanilla beans are shorter and thin. These are used for everyday baking. Grade C vanilla beans are the shortest and lightest in color. These are great for flavoring drinks.
What Does Good Quality Vanilla Bean Mean?
A good quality vanilla bean means that it’s grown in favorable conditions and has been carefully harvested and cured. This means that you’ll get the best flavor out of your vanilla beans. A good quality bean is also ethically produced and has been cultivated without harming the environment or the people who work in the farming industry. Ethical vanilla production is a very low-yield process that requires lots of time and effort. It’s a sustainable farming method that doesn’t harm the soil or the people cultivating the vanilla.
The Importance of Climate and Soil for Growing Vanilla Beans
For example, Tahitian vanilla is grown in warm tropical environments with high humidity. Mexican vanilla is grown in dry areas with low humidity. Both types of vanilla need warm and humid conditions and they need to be pollinated by hand. The vanilla plant is a perennial tropical or subtropical orchid vine and it lives for more than two years.
There are about 110 species of Orchids that produce Vanilla beans. Yes, those beautiful delicate orchids are what produce vanilla beans. These grow about 15 degrees north and south of the Equator and no other areas of the world. Gourmet Vanilla ‘n’ Spice has sourced vanilla beans from 29 countries or regions at this time.
Which Countries Grow the Best Vanilla?
Generally, about 80% of the world's commercial vanilla is from Madagascar. Bourbon is not the alcohol, but the name of an Island that grows these vanilla beans. For Americans, special vanilla may be from Mexico, simply because it’s the nearest source and easiest access, however, regardless of its label claiming pure vanilla, it’s more likely to be artificial and not safe. Generally, people are not aware of all the locations and types of vanilla available, or the difference in marketing claims of other countries. Mexican vanilla beans are a good quality bean, not the same as extracts. With vanilla beans being very high in price, obtaining a large bottle of extra at a low price would be your first indication it’s not pure vanilla
Does it matter what country or region the Vanilla bean comes from? The top 3 countries for growing vanilla are Madagascar, Sri Lanka, and Mexico. The reason these countries produce the best vanilla is because of their climate, they have a longer growing season, which gives the vanilla vines plenty of time to grow and develop their flavor, and the farmers use traditional methods. They have the knowledge and experience to grow the best vanilla beans. However, the majority of the world’s vanilla is imported from other tropical countries.
So, is there even a difference between these vanilla bean sources?
Actually, yes, there is. Some will have a floral, fruity, sweet aroma and taste while others will be a bold, smoky aroma and taste. have hints of fruits to hints of chocolate.
So now what? Choosing special vanilla to enhance the flavor of your recipes could be your “secret ingredient”. A sweet Vanilla is great for dessert or ice cream, a fruity vanilla for a smoothie bowl, a bold vanilla in your BBQ sauce or chili, and a smoky vanilla in your marinate. Maybe fruity vanilla in your glaze for chicken or salmon. You have more than just cinnamon in your spice cabinet, so why not have more than just common vanilla? We at Gourmet Vanilla ‘n’ Spice offer a smaller size bottle so you can have a collection of vanillas to complement your various recipes.
You may also notice that many bottles have a small piece of vanilla bean in the bottom, keeping the flavor as well as specks floating or settled on the bottom. The caviar or specks add a beautiful touch to your vanilla ice cream or cake. Simply shake your bottle before pouring out your measure of vanilla.
How long does Vanilla last?
Because of the quality, the FDA standards followed, and that our vanilla is not watered down, it will last indefinitely. It will still be as fragrant and flavorful as the day you bought it. But you’ll use up your bottle long before.
How do you taste test vanilla? Straight from the bottle is not the way. Our preferred way to taste test it is to take 2 TBLS of whole milk, or whipped cream and add a couple of drops of vanilla. Mix well and taste. There are three main tastes that you will experience: the first being the bean itself, the second being the spirit or alcohol, and the third being the aftertaste. You should be able to pick out each of these with every vanilla that you taste. Some are more prominent than others. And as most vanilla is made with Vodka which is colorless and flavorless, the vanilla will be more prominent.
So what’s the next step? Obviously, you need to make sure that you are using quality stuff in your kitchen. After all, it is the most expensive ingredient that you put into your food. Let's get one of your favorite recipes and a bottle of our Gourmet Vanilla to match, enhance the flavor and let's get cooking or baking!
I hope this information has been helpful and you can use it to make informed decisions about your vanilla. For the complete line of Gourmet Vanilla products, please visit our store at www.GourmetVanillaSpice.com