What is vanilla?

[av_one_full first min_height=” vertical_alignment=” space=” custom_margin=” margin=’0px’ padding=’0px’ border=” border_color=” radius=’0px’ background_color=” src=” background_position=’top left’ background_repeat=’no-repeat’ animation=” mobile_breaking=” mobile_display=”] [av_heading heading=’What is Vanilla?’ tag=’h2′ style=” size=” subheading_active=” subheading_size=’15’ padding=’10’ color=” custom_font=” av-medium-font-size-title=” av-small-font-size-title=” av-mini-font-size-title=” av-medium-font-size=” av-small-font-size=” av-mini-font-size=” admin_preview_bg=”][/av_heading] [/av_one_full][av_textblock size=” font_color=” color=” av-medium-font-size=” av-small-font-size=” av-mini-font-size=” admin_preview_bg=”] Did Montezuma II, the legendary king of the Aztecs, really imbibe 50 cups of a special thick chocolate-vanilla-honey potion every day? We will never know, but we do know that vanilla flavouring is one of the substances that people just cannot get enough of.

Vanilla is produced by a vining orchid. Vanilla planifolia, the most commonly grown species, is grown in Madagascar, Reunion and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean. It is commonly known as Bourbon vanilla after the former name of Reunion, Ile Bourbon. V. tahitensis is grown in the South Pacific and V.pompona is found in the West Indies and Central & South America. The three species of vanilla do taste very different from each other and when we first started making gelati (was it really just last year?) we tried all of them before deciding to go with the Madagascan: it’s the classic, deep, rich ‘real’ vanilla that we all know and love.

But banish the phrase ‘plain vanilla’ from your vocabulary.

Why? Because ‘real’ vanilla is one of the most complex spices around, boasting at least 250 different flavor and aroma compounds, only one of which is vanillin, the stuff that can be made artificially in a lab. This is mainly synthesized from petrochemical precursors and is used in a lot of processed foods – in fact shockingly 97% of vanilla flavouring in the West is artificial as it is so cheap to produce!

Madagascar is the world’s biggest producer of vanilla bean, harvesting 1,000 to 1,500 tons per year. But 2017 has been a very difficult year for producers as in March a cyclone damaged around 30 percent of the crop and prices have rocketed as a result of the shortage. Some gelati manufacturers have stopped making vanilla because they have not wanted to pass the increases on to their customers.

Let’s hope that 2018 is a better year for our Madagascan friends….

So when you next need to buy vanilla, make sure you go for the ‘real’ vanilla which is an EXTRACT or pods – and not an ESSENCE which is artificial vanillin.
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