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Vanilla

Did you know that the Vanilla Bean is the dried fruit of an orchid that's native to Mexico.  You can find out more about the plant on the Orchids Australia web site.  The brand most commonly found in Australia is Queens and you can have a look at their products online.

Vanilla is a lovely flavouring for sweet treats, including your morning coffee.  But what's the difference between all the different vanilla products?

Vanilla Essence:

This flavouring is the cheapest to buy. In Australia, vanilla essence is most likely made from vanilla beans, not the chemically derived "vanillan". 

Any product that is made with "vanillan" or some other chemical derivative should be labelled as "vanilla flavouring" or "imitation vanilla".  Products from overseas may not comply with responsible labelling.

Vanilla Extract:

This is a stronger flavoured product, but it's also more expensive.  Vanilla Extract is made from the vanilla bean. It must contain 35% alcohol and may also include water and sugar.

If your recipe specifies Vanilla Essence, or just "Vanilla", you can certainly substitute Vanilla Extract but use a little less than specified - reduce the measurement by about 25-50%.  The consistency is a little thicker and the colour usually a tad darker than essence.

Queens market two "strengths" in Australia and it's worth paying the extra money for their "Black Label Vanilla Extract".

Vanilla Bean Paste:

This product is fairly new to the market and a small jar (65g) will cost you close to $10.  1 teaspoon is equivalent to 1 whole vanilla bean and it's a really good substitute for the real thing.  It's a sticky paste that contains the tiny seeds and you need to stir the paste into your liquid (water or milk) for a minute or so to incorporate it properly.

Vanilla Beans:

The real deal.  They are costly and a bit fiddly to use so in my opinion, the Paste is a good alternative.  To use the beans, you must split then lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with a sharp knife.  Sometimes the seeds are the only part to be used.  Don't throw away the pod because it also has lots of flavour and can be added to milk when you are heating it for custard.

Vanilla Sugar:

Sugar infused with vanilla bean - a bit expensive to buy and easy to make at home.  Simply add a vanilla bea, (either whole or one that has had the bean paste removed for another recipe) to some castor sugar in a glass jar and use after a couple of weeks. 
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