Vanilla is a spice for flavoring, named after the orchid plant, Vanilla from which it is extracted. The fruits borne on the seed pods of this particular plant are known as vanilla beans. The floral flavored vanilla is the second leading expensive spice next to saffron. This high price is mainly because of the extensive labor employed in hand pollinating the vanilla blossoms (within 12 hours after opening), without which there are no fruit formation. Harvesting the vanilla beans is as laborious as pollinating the flowers. They are hand-picked individually during a specific stage, before the fruits become fully matured. The commercial value of the beans is fixed by their maturity and pod length, wherein beans longer than 15 cm are superior products and those measuring between 10-15 cm are second quality product. After 6 months treatment, the beans are packaged and sold commercially.
The cured vanilla beans are used in a wide range of recipes, ranging from sauces to sweet candies, cakes, and ice-creams. Adding them not only imparts a unique aroma, but they also provide a visual element to the dishes. In order to add vanilla beans in coffee grinding or sauce making, you need to split the beans lengthwise and remove the seeds with a knife.
Substitutes for Vanilla Bean
Adding vanilla beans in cakes and other recipes takes longer time for preparation, but they impart a beautiful flavor. Also, with beans, the dishes are free of alcohol, which is present in case of vanilla extract.
Vanilla extract is commonly used for home baking purposes. Prepared by steeping the beans in a solution of water and alcohol, it is a dark-colored and highly aromatic liquid. It is probably the best substitute for vanilla beans. You can use 1 teaspoon (5 ml) of a superior quality vanilla extract in substitution of one vanilla bean. If necessary, you can add a few drops of vanilla extract to get the desired flavor.
Vanilla powder lacks alcohol, which makes them an substitute to make custards and dessert recipes. They are ground after drying and pulverizing vanilla beans. Some manufacturers market sweetened vanilla powder. Hence, ensure that you check the label while purchasing the powder form of vanilla. Substitute 2 teaspoons vanilla powder instead of adding one vanilla bean.
Another alternative is vanilla sugar, which is available in granulated form, similar to regular sugar. It is nothing but white sugar commercially imparted with vanilla flavor. You can notice fine, dark grains of vanilla beans in the sugar. Using 1-2 teaspoons of vanilla sugar provides the same flavor as that of one vanilla bean in sweet desserts. Accordingly, reduce the amount of sugar that you will be adding in the recipe.
Vanillin sugar is white sugar, manufactured by using synthetic vanillin. Unlike vanilla sugar, it is slightly bitter in taste. Over here, it is extracted from other plants and essential oils that contain vanilla flavor. For example, lignin is widely used for production of synthetic vanillin. You can use 1-2 teaspoons of vanillin sugar in one batch of dough or batter.
Try the above-mentioned vanilla bean substitutes and make the best of your cooking. In comparison to whole vanilla beans, the extract form is cheaper and easier to use. You can also prepare homemade vanilla extract on your own and use it throughout the year.