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The vanilla bean is the fruit of the only edible orchid species.† Two types of vanilla bean are commercially available, Bourbon and Tahitian.† Bourbon is a thinner pod but has a richer, sweeter flavor, while Tahitian is a thicker pod with a fruitier taste.† Vanilla grows in the tropics, originally found in Central America (Mexican vanilla) but now commercially grown in other tropical regions, such as Madagascar and the Philippines.
Vanilla is not an inexpensive product because the growing time is long and labor intensive.† The pods must be cured even after taking a year to grow.† A recent vanilla shortage due to severe weather also has added to the cost for consumers.† However, the use of vanilla in ice cream, in baking, and, more recently, in aroma therapy makes it indispensable.† Vanilla is also a popular ingredient in fragrances because studies have shown that it has an aphrodisiac affect on men.†
To add vanilla fragrance to massage oil, simply pour sweet almond oil into the vial that the beans come in, recap it, and leave it in a dark place until needed.† Light and heat tend to destroy flavors in foods, although you may get quicker results leaving the vial in a warm place; Iíve found that keeping it in the refrigerator works fine.† When the oil is as fragrant as you wish, remove it to a dispenser and replace with fresh almond oil for your next batch.† The beans can be used several times this way, and afterwards you can still slit the pod to remove the seeds and use them in cooking, or wipe them dry and store with sugar, coffee, or even rum.
The usual way to use the vanilla bean as an ingredient is to slit the bean lengthwise with a sharp knife and then to scrape the seeds and resin away.† The pod itself has lots of flavor and can be added to a hot drink, like apple cider or coffee; then, you can rinse and dry the pod to be reused.† Vanilla extract, of course, is a staple in baking but can also add interest to some of our less exciting favorites, like hot oatmeal.
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Vanilla sugar makes a fragrant garnish and sometimes is called for in dessert recipes.† The bean can also be used to flavor coffee by storing a bean in the coffee container until needed.† Even tea has been flavored in this way, notably roibos.† To make your own vanilla extract, purchase some alcohol from the liquor store and store some vanilla beans in the bottle.
Artificial vanilla extract is much cheaper but lacks the complexity of taste and fragrance of natural vanilla.† The artificial type is the chemical version of vanillin, the white powder that forms on the bean as it is cured.† Genuine vanilla, however, has a surprising number of varied chemicals that make it impossible to create affordably in the lab. Making your own vanilla extract isn't difficult and results in a more flavorful product; the oils have been removed from the commercial product in order to prolong shelf life. Your home-made vanilla extract will have greater complexity of flavor and can also double as a liqueur in drinks.
To make your own vanilla extract, use Grade B vanilla beans because these will have the same flavor but very slightly different sizes from the Grade A type of bean. Grade B beans may even be easier to slice if they are wider than the Grade A beans. The difference in cost is significant, however. Vanilla beans purchased in the supermarket are expensive, but if you order a quarter pound from a reputable online retailer you will be able to afford to use more than a teaspoon in your favorite recipes! I usually replace a quarter cup of the liquid called for in a recipe with my home-made vanilla extract. If it's a cake recipe, for example, calling for a cup of milk, I will use 3/4 cup milk plus 1/4 cup vanilla extract . . . delicious! You can actually taste the vanilla for a change, and guests will remark on the wonderful mysterious quality of your cake.
Homemade Vanilla Extract One technique for making your own vanilla extract is to use a wide-mouth mason jar, cleaned and dried; slice the beans length wise and then cut in half. Arrange the beans in the jar so that they are loosely packed. Pour vodka, white rum, or brandy over the beans to cover. Seal and place in a cool cupboard. After a few weeks the extract should be strong enough to use, but after a few months it will be powerful. When it reaches the desired strength, you can pour it into a bottle with a pouring spout--perhaps the bottle the vodka came in--and conveniently use it in your baking. Add more liquor to the mason jar to make your next batch of extract.
Eventually the beans will lose their flavor, and at that point you will have a liqueur rather than an extract. Vanilla liqueur is delicious in any drink, but adding it to soy milk makes the soy more interesting!

Cinnamon Toast

To make a delicious spread for warm toast, whip together these few ingredients:

4 tbls soft butter

2 tsp vanilla sugar

2 tsp ground cinnamon

ENJOY!
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