Most often when we talk about good vanilla extract or vanilla beans, we picture using it to make a great dessert. We associate it with something sweet and can’t imagine it otherwise.
I grew up with Vanilla Wafers (are those cookies still around?), vanilla ice cream, vanilla pudding, etc. But it wasn’t before living in France for a few years that I noticed some unusual uses for vanilla in savory dishes.
I had been buying vanilla extract at the grocery store for use in desserts, not really paying attention to its low quality: it often had artificial coloring.
It wasn’t until I made an effort to buy a high-quality pure vanilla extract, vanilla bean, or powder that I started using vanilla in a variety of dishes with beautiful results. When I became really demanding, I began using only vanilla from Tahiti.
What’s so Special About the Tahitian Vanilla Bean?
First of all, vanilla from Tahiti is quite rare: the majority of the world’s vanilla comes from Madagascar and Indonesia. Tahitian vanilla represents less than 1% of worldwide production.
Secondly, the Tahitian vanilla plant, or Vanilla Tahitensis, is a different varietal than the more common Vanilla Planifolia which comprises most of the world’s production.
Its distinguishing feature is in the pod of the Vanilla Tahitensis, which is the only kind that does not split before maturity. This allows nature to produce many additional vanillin flavors within the pod.
In “ordinary” vanilla, the pod splits open when ripe. To avoid this bursting of the pod, vanilla growers harvest the vanilla when it is still green. However, this limits somewhat its flavor development.
Since it does not split at maturity, Tahitian vanilla beans can be harvested when fully ripe, when the taste and flavors are at their finest.
What does Tahitian Vanilla Bean Taste Like:
Many have described the unique taste of Tahitian vanilla as being comprised of floral notes with caramel and chocolate aromas.
The originality and intensity of the aromatic bouquet also come from its molecules. Tahitian Vanilla is notably the only vanilla containing a very high proportion of p-hydroxybenzoic acid.
However, the most remarkable molecule is ethyl vanillin: a vanilla flavor that is 3 to 4 times more intense than that of vanillin.
Another distinguishing feature of this rare varietal is the fatty acids present in its pods. The pods are also thicker and oilier than other types of vanilla.
For all these reasons it is sought after by world-class chefs. It is the vanilla bean used in many Michelin-starred restaurants.
How I Use Vanilla in Home-Cooking
An easy way to up-level your meals at home without being a grand chef is to add a high-quality pure Tahitian vanilla bean extract to raw vegetable dishes.
While it can be expensive compared to diluted or low-quality vanilla, a little bit goes a long way.
2 Ways to use Tahitian vanilla for a simple starter course:
1. Tomato Salad:
Go to my IGTV channel (@nancyconwayparis), to see me make this recipe from start to finish. It’s simply raw, sliced tomatoes with a vinaigrette made of red wine raspberry vinegar, a dash of Tahitian Vanilla bean powder or extract mixed into the vinegar, olive oil, salt & pepper. Chopped mint leaves are added on the tomatoes before serving.
The vanilla adds a great flavor but is not overwhelming. As I mention in my IGTV video, I like to ask people to guess what’s in the vinaigrette. While some friends have noticed the raspberry vinegar, no one has yet imagined the presence of vanilla. (No one will ask “What’s vanilla doing in my tomato salad?”)
2. Grated Carrot Salad:
This is a weeknight staple:
Grated carrots (I use a box grater)
For the vinaigrette whisk together:
Add a dash of Tahitian vanilla powder or pure extract to the lemon juice
Add olive oil, salt & pepper
-Black pepper from Madagascar (Voatsiperifery) instead of regular black pepper. Its exotic woody aromas give a delicious twist to this simple recipe.
-Fresh cilantro (coriander) leaves add another dimension to the carrots.
Tahitian vanilla is a natural addition to simple meals, but it makes a big difference.
Try the two simple recipes above. Your kids might even enjoy eating their veggies.
Vanilla is not just for desserts anymore!
Photo Courtesy of Unsplash.com