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Baking? Let’s talk about vanilla

You just wanted to make a cake and now you’re standing in front of a row of different types of vanillas, unsure of which one to choose. With different price points and packaging, they all seem pretty exotic, but which one will be the best for what you’re making? And, since vanilla is the second-most expensive ingredient in the world, second only to saffron, how will you make sure you’re buying the one that will offer you the most options. 

Check out what makes each vanilla the same, or different, from the next in hopes that you won’t ever have to put baking a cake on hold to debate this ingredient choice ever again. 

Mexican Vanilla 

Mexican vanilla is harvested after the flower dies, usually around nine months, and then the green pod is cut from the plant. The pod is dried for 20 days, then undergoes a fermentation process. This process seals in the flavor of the vanilla, which is described as a combination between basic flavors as well as those distinct to the flavoring. 

The characteristic flavors of vanilla include metallic, astringent, smoked, pungent, pungent, toasted, gritty, spiciness of tuberose, sweet, clove, black pepper, cinnamon, raisin, wood, wet earth, dry chili, cocoa, tamarind, sesame and moldy 

And while it may not be as easy to pick out Mexican vanilla with an untrained palate, there is a way to tell it apart from other vanillas by just looking at it. Mexican vanilla is thinner, as opposed to Tahitian vanilla, which is thicker. 

Madagascar Vanilla 

Also native to Mexico is Madagascar vanilla, or bourbon vanilla. However, after being brought to the areas surrounding the Indian Ocean in the 1800s. Now, the lands supply two-thirds of the world’s vanilla supply. It is made from the same plant and has the same flavor notes as Mexican vanilla.


Tahitian Vanilla 

In the Pacific Ocean, there is an island in Tahiti that is referred to as “Vanilla Island.” The island got its name because 80 percent of the country’s vanilla is produced there. 

Tahitian Vanilla (Vanilla Tahitensis) is a natural hybrid between two vanilla species: Vanilla Planifolia, better known as Bourbon Vanilla, and Vanilla Odorata, a very rare vanilla found in the forests of Belize and Guatemala. It represents only 1% of the global production of vanilla. 

During the growing period, the vanilla is fertilized by hand. After nine months, it’s picked, dried under the sun and then packaged in vacuum flasks in the absence of light to preserve the flavor. 

The flavor of Tahitian vanilla is heavily influenced by the tropical climate and the soil and contains flavor notes of caramel and anise, with delicate touches of chocolate that melt in the mouth.

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