Vanilla: The World’s Favorite Flavor
Page 4: The Best Vanilla Extract & Vanilla Beans
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Vanilla Taste Test
There are many brands of vanilla products, so it’s important to buy wisely. We researched and acquired what are considered to be the best vanillas on the market. Yes, there are others in addition to those we tested; we’ll try them against the winners next time.
This time around, we tried vanilla beans and extracts from these premier companies:
- Aust & Hachmann
- Hawaiian Vanilla Company
- Nielsen-Massey Vanillas
- Rain’s Choice
The selection features vanilla extracts from Hawaii, Madagascar and Mexico and Tahiti and vanilla beans from French Polynesia, Madagascar, Mexico, Papua New Guinea, Tahiti and Uganda.
But how to test them? Unlike tasting olive oil or vinegar, sampling a spoonful of vanilla extract or smelling a vanilla bean doesn’t tell you how it will work in a finished product. We knew there would be some baking and cooking benchmark. Should we make crème brûlée? Vanilla ice cream? A cake with vanilla frosting?
Make this delicious Grand Marnier Crème Brûlée recipe.
We consulted Larissa Raphael, pastry chef of the acclaimed New York City restaurant, Telepan. She suggested testing the different extracts with her Larissa’s Shortbread recipe, and to make her Buttermilk Panna Cotta recipe to test the six different beans (both recipes are on the next page).
Yes, vanilla is for savory dishes, too. It balances acidity in sauces, sweetens side dishes, and complements proteins. Add a teaspoon of vanilla extract to tomato sauce or chili to help cut the acidity of the tomatoes; it’s delicious in creamed corn, too. But, we’ll save the savory testing for next time.
By the way, have you noticed that vanilla extract is always added in at the end of a recipe? Adding vanilla last diffuses the flavor through all of the ingredients and may even be added to pre-cooked confections (like pastry cream) after they have been briefly cooled, so the flavor does not dissipate from the application of heat.
The Best Vanilla Beans & Extract
Best Vanilla Extract
While all of the vanilla extract made delicious shortbreads too, the unanimous favorite offered what was deemed to be the ideal vanilla flavor. Its “familiar vanilla” taste makes it an attractive grab for any multi-tasking pastry chef or home baker. This crowd pleaser was Madécasse’s Madagascan Vanilla Extract. The company is fairly new; the added bonus is their commitment to fair trade and a local Madagascar children’s shelter.
- Madécasse Madagascan Vanilla Extract
2 Ounces/59 ml
Buy online at AuMarche.com
Product photos by Claire Freierman | THE NIBBLE.
Best Vanilla Beans
It was easier to taste the differences between the brands in the panna cotta recipe. The flavors were all unique, proving how important the selection of a vanilla product can be to people who work to perfect their recipes. Visually, too, it was easy to tell the difference. We had plump beans, dry beans, short beans, tall beans and everything in between. (Experts say that you can’t tell by looking at a bean what variety it is or where it comes from; but often they can tell by smelling it).
We had two front-runners for “best vanilla bean”: Aust & Hachmann’s Papua New Guinea vanilla beans and Rain’s Choice Mexican vanilla beans. Rain’s Choice was bright tasting, with a medium, attractive vanilla bean speck and a subtle, balanced, infused flavor of vanilla. Aust & Hachmann offered depth, roundness of flavor, a unique smokiness and a nice bean speck.
At right: Aust & Hachmann beans from Papua New Guinea.
A chart with the results of the entire tasting follows on the next page.
- Aust & Hachmann
Products are sold at specialty food stores nationwide
- Rain’s Choice
Mexican Vanilla Beans
½ lb: $45.00
Tahitian Vanilla Beans
½ lb: $135.00
Buy online at Vanilla.com
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