Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla. The word vanilla, derived from the diminutive of the Spanish word vaina (vaina itself meaning sheath or pod), and literally translates as little pod. Native to Mexico and Central America, the Aztecs used them in xocolatl, an early version of our hot chocolate. Europeans discovered the pleasures of vanilla when Cortez, the Spanish conqueror imported it in 1560.
Sensuously fragrant, and one of the world’s most popular—and expensive flavorings—vanilla beans are the fruit of a fragile, climbing orchid. Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron, because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive. Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavor, which author Frederic Rosengarten, Jr. described in The Book of Spices as “pure, spicy, and delicate” and its complex floral aroma depicted as a “peculiar bouquet”. As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture and aromatherapy.
Scraping a Vanilla Bean pod is something easy, you don’t have to be intimidated by it – and not only the vanilla beans give your recipes an amazing subtle and delicate flavor, it shows that you are one serious baker!
How to Split and Scrape a Vanilla Bean Pod
- Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and then separate it into two sections.
- Hold the pod at one end and then using the edge of a knife, begin scraping the beans into a small bowl.
- Get as many of the tiny beans as possible and then give it one last scrape.
- Save the pod and make a batch of vanilla sugar.