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Ingredient of the month –Vanilla Bean

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These little sticks are true treasure! Filled with tiny beans, they are so full of flavor and fragrance. I cant think of any baking kitchen that is not filled with the aroma of vanilla. It is the most preferred flavor world over.

These oh-so-delicious beans a are rare and expensive purely because it’s the worlds most labor-intensive agricultural crop. It is the only edible fruit of the orchid family. The fruits, which resemble large green beans, must remain on the vine for nine months in order to completely develop their signature aroma. However, when the beans are harvested, they are still partially green and therefore have neither flavor nor fragrance. They develop these distinctive properties during the curing and drying process.

Karnataka leads in the country’s vanilla cultivation followed by Kerala and Tamil Nadu. India is the 6th largest exporter of vanilla bean.

Tips, Tricks and Uses

- The best quality vanilla beans regardless of where they are coming from are dark skinned, soft and pliable

- They should have a rich aroma. You have to avoid beans with very little scent and beans which are smoky, brittle, dry or mildewed.

- Use the strongly aromatic beans whole or split them, to get more flavour from the thousands of tiny seeds inside the pods.

- Vanilla beans will keep indefinitely in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. Don’t refrigerate beans as this can cause them to harden and crystallize.

- To cut open a vanilla bean, lay it flat on a cutting surface. Holding one end of the bean to the surface, carefully slice the bean open lengthwise. When you separate the bean, thousands of tiny seeds are exposed. You can scrape the seeds from the bean before using the vanilla beans.

- If you’re using high-quality beans, you may notice after time that they have developed crystals ,an indicator that the beans are high in natural vanillin and of good quality. This is a natural process and a delicious one.

- If your vanilla beans have dried out, simply add them to warm liquid to draw out the flavor. A dry bean pod added to a mug of hot chocolate or a cup of hot tea results in a yummy experience!

- You can make vanilla sugar by adding the split and de-seeded pod to a jar of sugar, sealing it well, and letting it sit at least two weeks.

- The used pod can also be added to a bottle of alcohol such as vodka or rum to make vanilla extract. Or you can add a split, unscraped bean if you want for a stronger flavor.

- Thoroughly dry the pod until it is hard and then break it up in a clean spice grinder. Grind until a fine powder is created and use this in baked goods to boost the vanilla flavor.

- A teaspoon or so of vanilla in Italian tomato sauces helps cut the acidity of the tomatoes.

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