Madagascar Vanilla Beans
You can't really describe yourself as a vanilla lover until you have tried a whole vanilla bean, Vanilla planifolia. They are more fragrant and robust than extracts, and prettier to look at than the wood pulp some companies use to produce their vanilla flavors. These beans are pliable and bend without snapping, with a dark brown to nearly black uniform color that is just slightly oily to the touch. Vanilla is second only to saffron in terms of cost of the spice because they are a very labor-intensive crop. Despite this, vanilla beans are highly coveted for their flavor.
Madagascar vanilla beans have another name- Bourbon vanilla beans.
The vanilla orchid was first domesticated and cultivated by the Totonacs, a group of people indigenous to Mexico. During the 15th century, the Aztecs conquered the Totonec region and quickly came to use and crave this exotic, highly unique flavor, stealing the plants from the control of the Totonec people. They would add it to their famous drink chocolatl, that early form of hot chocolate made with cacao nibs. The Aztec people called the vanilla plant "tlilxochi," which translates to "black flower." Soon, the Aztecs were conquered by the Spanish who also grew to love vanilla.
Some sources say that it was the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortez who introduced vanilla to Europe, where the Queen of England, Elizabeth I, became an instant fan. Early attempts to grow vanilla outside of Mexico and Central America were unsuccessful because the bee that did much of this pollination, the Melipona bee, could only survive in those areas. In 1841 however, a slave boy living in Réunion by the name of Edmond figured out how to hand pollinate the plants and produced some viable beans. After his master realized what this meant for the economy and the vanilla trade, he freed Edmond and granted him a last name- Albius. Many people were skeptical that an uneducated slave could have figured this out, but his master defended his honor and integrity until they died. Despite his former master's efforts, Edmond Albius was never rewarded for his contributions and he died as a poor man. Nevertheless, his memory survives in the form of a bronze statue, and some streets and schools named after him in Réunion.
Thomas Jefferson is credited with bringing vanilla to the United States in the 1700s. His handwritten recipe for vanilla ice cream, one he developed himself while living in Paris, can be found at the Library of Congress with the rest of his preserved papers. Today Madagascar, Réunion, and the Comoros Islands account for almost 80% of the world's total vanilla production. In recent years, the decreased demand for real vanilla beans has led to a decrease in the farms producing it. Food manufactures have increased their use of natural and synthetic vanilla substitutes in the food industry, leading to the decreased desire and demand for the real thing.
As they must be pollinated and harvested by hand, this is a very labor-intensive crop. Vines take up to three years to produce flowers which must be pollinated nearly immediately or else they shrivel up, fall off the plant, and die. The flowers only last for a few hours and so vines are usually pre-stacked or arranged by hand in a way for the pollination to take place quickly and easily when the yellow, surprisingly odorless flowers do show up. The vanilla vines enjoy damp heat, a steady stream of alternating sunshine and shade, and a great supply of water in the form of regular rainfall. Think of this plant, which can grow up to 300 feet long, as a petulant child- sticking its legs in and out of the covers, demanding a drink of water in the middle of the night.
There are approximately 9 Madagascar Vanilla beans per ounce, though this can vary. When you buy our vanilla beans by weight, you can be assured that you are getting the proper weight, don't just rely on the approximated bean count.
Our Madagascar Vanilla Beans come from Madagascar.
There are currently 3 major species of Vanilla grown globally, all of whom are direct ancestors of the original species grown in Mexico and Central America. These beans are either Madagascar, Mexican or Tahitian.
Madagascar or Bourbon vanilla beans are cultivated from Vanilla planifolia. They are the thinnest type and have a rich, sweet flavor with fruity, sweet creamy, hay-like aroma with vanillin undertones. The vanilla flavor is generally stronger in these beans than it is in other vanilla varieties.
Mexican Vanilla Beans are also grown from Vanilla planifolia, but it is hard to come by because it is the vanilla from the place of origin. The areas where these beans are grown are also plagued with droughts and lower levels of land dedicated to growing the vanilla beans. This makes it very desirable and more expensive than other types of vanilla. These beans have a more subtle flavor and a spicier, woodier fragrance.
Tahitian Vanilla Beans come from a different type of vanilla, Vanilla tahitiensis. These beans are shorter, thicker, and darker in color than the Vanilla planifolia types. They have an aroma and flavor that is slightly floral and fruity.
Vanilla beans are very potent and have a lot of flavor. Many cooks opt to using them more than once, rinsing them off and allowing them to dry between recipes. This is a good way to extend the life of your beans. You can also grind the beans up and use them that way in recipes calling for vanilla.
You may go to use your vanilla beans and discover they have developed crystals, which might look a little bit like white fur. These crystals are actually an indication of high quality beans, as they are made of pure vanillin. The vanillin crystalizes over time, but it can still be used! It is normal to find these forming on high quality vanilla beans. However, if you do see a dull growth on your beans, or they smell funky, isolate them from the rest of your beans and discard the bad ones quickly. This is a sign of mildew.
Use vanilla beans with apples, eggs, fish, ice cream, melon, milk, peaches, pears and strawberries. Vanilla beans work well in combination with cardamom, chiles, cinnamon and cloves. These beans can be used in savory applications and in fish-based dishes. One popular incarnation of this pairing is a vanilla sauce and pairing it with lobster.
You can use these beans to make your very own vanilla extract, making the flavor of your vanilla beans last even longer! If making your own extract isn't your thing, we do sell a high quality Organic Vanilla Extract.
Fresh Vanilla beans are never used. They must be cured before they can be used in food for the maximum vanilla flavor. In fact, a farmer makes less money per pound for the fresh beans than the processors will make for the finished product.
Madagascar Vanilla Beans are both rich and sweet in flavor and have a lovely aroma.
Contrary to our advice for nearly every other spice available, we do not recommend that you store your vanilla beans in an air tight container! You want the air around them to circulate as much as possible naturally. When they are stored in air tight containers, they tend to grow mildew. Do not store in the fridge or the freezer either, as this practice may increase the chance for mold.
When stored properly in a cool, dark place with plenty of air circulation, your vanilla beans can stay moist and easy to work with for 6-12 months.
You can substitute these vanilla beans with any other type of vanilla bean with very similar results.