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Vanilla Extract Questions

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Yesterday, on a whim, I picked up a small bottle of Trader Joe's "Pure Tahitian Vanilla Extract." It was only $3.99 for a 4-oz bottle, and I figured, what the heck. The stuff is awful, real bottom rung quality. Very disappointed but not surprised considering the price.

What vanilla extract brands do you use, and what type of vanilla is it? I was thinking of ordering some Penzeys, although I'd much rather purchase from a local business.

I've read that a good extract contains vanilla and alcohol, nothing more. However, I've seen a number of extracts that also contain water and sugar. What's the point of that?

shel
post #2 of 14
Answering you last question first, Shel, they add water and sugar (actually corn syrup, most times) for the same reason a dog licks its butt: because they can. It's a way of stretching the extract without violating the law. Note that despite those adulterants the label still says "100% pure vanilla extract."

The question is, how much of it is actually vanilla. Or, to put a point on it, how much of that 4 ounces you bought is water and corn syrup, and how much is real vanilla extract?

So, number one, you only want an extract made with vanilla beans and alcohol.

Number two: Vanilla is grown in many parts of the world. In fact, it grows wild in southern Florida. Most of the world crop comes from Mexico, and, depending on which authority you believe, it may be a different plant than the vanilla of Madagascar---which is both better tasting and more expensive.

The very best vanilla comes from the isle of Reunion, and is known as Bourbon vanilla because the island was formerly known as Ile de Bourbon.

As a sidelight, her's one of those great foodie facts you can wow your friends with. Reunion---500 miles east of Madagascar, in the Indian Ocean---is officially a French departement. So, you can claim, with accuracy, that the best vanilla in the world is grown in France.

Lord, I hated saying that. But it's the truth.

Anyway, vanillar pods have to be cured for use. When first picked they are odorless (and, presumably, tasteless). The length of time curing also effects the depth of the flavor, and, obviously, can have an effect on the price.
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They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
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post #3 of 14
I order the double strength Madagascar vanilla extract from spicehouse.com. It may or may not be similar to Penzey's because I think they used to be the same family, but there was some bitter dispute and someone broke off and formed Penzey's. Its great stuff, but not really that cheap.
post #4 of 14
I use Penzeys single strength vanilla extract. I used to use the double strength, but after reading here about why that's not a good idea (too strong or a chemical taste in some recipes), I switched to single strength.

Before Penzeys I used McCormick's. Huge difference!
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post #5 of 14
I use the single strength, from Penzey's, when I'm using it in something that won't be cooked/baked much (if at all).

I keep the double strength for instances when I'm going to bake something for longer times, such as homemade sticky buns.


dan
post #6 of 14
Thread Starter 
Does the extract include water and sugar? I seem to recall that it does.

shel
post #7 of 14
Thread Starter 
Well, the TJ's purchase notwithstanding, I'm not looking for cheap. Does the extract you use contain water & sugar?

scb
post #8 of 14
I believe both Penzey's and The SpiceHouse use the same process To my knowledge neither uses water but both do use sugar. The Penzey extract uses Madagascar Beans and SpiceHouse has some extracts that use Madagascar beans and other varieties as well.

The only place I've noticed sugar-free extract from is from ICDC. I've never ordered from here. But I do get a bit suspicious from the overuse of words like certified organic. I prefer they let their spices talk for themselves rather than rely on a trendy marketing strategy, like TJ's and WF!

good luck!
dan
post #9 of 14
When I get the commercial brands (virginia, massy, mccormick) I like to add beans to the bottle. Also am a fan of the vanilla pastes ~ love the crunch of the vanilla!

I like to use vodka and beans steeped for a few months. Also reuse my pods in sugar and as garnish.

Mexican beans and Bourbons are my fav's.

It's about quality but also, what do YOU like? What do your clients prefer?
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bake first, ask questions later.
Oooh food, my favorite!


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post #10 of 14
i use mexican vanilla cuz i get to go to mexico to get it! plus its really good..

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

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post #11 of 14
My Mom brought me back some Mexican vanilla that she picked up for me on a cruise she went on. I use it here at home and really, really like it. The brand is Los Cinco Soles Mexico and the label says it contains vanilla beans, water, and alcohol. It also says it does not contain coumarin--whatever that is. Maybe I should put that in the Stump BDL thread--he'd probably know what it is!!!! That guy's a genius!!!!!

At work I use a Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla (that's what the label says). My boss buys it for me by the case at Costco. It's great stuff. I'll check the bottle at work to see the ingredient list when I head back there tomorrow.

I have also used a pure vanilla extract that Sysco puts out. It's not bad although pricey. Think I have a tiny bit of this left in the bottle--I'll check this one out as well and report back.

I reuse my bean pods too. Sometimes make vanilla sugar--sometimes save them to steep in a custard or ice cream. Sometimes use them for garnish.
post #12 of 14
Thread Starter 
post #13 of 14
Coumarin is banned in the U.S. as a food additive. To my understanding the only use permitted right now is in some anti-coagulants medicines.


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dan
post #14 of 14
Mexican vanilla is excellent. We periodically buy Mexican beans by the pound and make our own extract in rum, cognac, bourbon and/or vodka. The lowest priced cognac at TJ (Raynal?) is good, but any cheap VSOP would do as well. A very neutral character vodka is good -- supermarket brands are ideal. For rum or bourbon you want to climb the ladder a little and go for something with out too much edge.

Anyway, you pour a few ounces of booze into a glass, and while you're figuring out what to do with it, slit 6 vanilla pods and slip them into the bottle. Drink the booze in the glass. Put the cap back on the bottle, reserve for three months or longer. And bingo! Quicker than you can say "14 to 16 weeks," you've got extract.

Then when it is asked, "Got extract?"

You may answer, "Yes, thanks. Quite a bit actually."

Strength varies with age and the number of pods you ram down the bottle. It will not measure like commercially sourced extract -- so you'll have to wing it. Fortunately, too much vanilla is a good thing.

BDL
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