Home >> The-grocers-encyclopedia-1911 >> Puff Ball to Yeast >> Vanilla


beans, mexican, bean, vanillin, pod, extract, quality and flavor

VANILLA. The true vanilla bean from which genuine Vanilla Extract is made, is the dried pod of the Vanilla plant, a climbing vine of the orchid family. The best beans are those from the cultivated, flat-leaved vanilla vine, found at its highest excel lence in certain valleys near the eastern coast of Mexico, the most noted of all being the wonderful Valley of Papantla, in the State of Vera Cruz, a depression of more than six thousand feet and one of the richest spots on the face of the globe.

In its wild state, the vanilla orchid attaches itself to anything at hand—rocks, shrubs and trees—intertwining its long fleshy stems and tapering leaves, growing very freely under favorable conditions but producing fruit that is rank and inferior in flavor. Under cultivation, it is trained over trellis-work or around trees (see Color Page). The flowers resemble the tuberose in appearance, color and fragrance, and from each blossom springs a little pod, which grows rapidly until, if it reaches maturity, it looks like a cross between a big bean and a thin banana.

Vanilla picking begins in November and continues with increasing importance through December and January, the pods being gathered before they are fully ripe.

The green beans when gathered weigh from 50 to 60 pounds per thousand, but dwindle in the process of curing, so that their weight finally ranges from 10 to 12 pounds per thousand, and their size has shrunk from a circumference of one to two inches to an attenuated pod not much larger than a pipe stem.

The beans are first "sweated" and cured in special ovens—these having largely taken the place of the former method of sweating between blankets laid in the sun. Then comes a gradual browning by exposure to the sun until the pods attain a rich chocolate color, bordering at times on black, and a final drying under cover for twenty to forty days. During all this time the beans are constantly inspected, each pod being given individual attention to see that it receives just the right curing, being removed or further treated, as may be necessary.

The dried beans—long and slender in shape, soapy or waxy to the touch and highly aromatic—are put up in bundles of twelve to eighteen ounces each and pressed close, the ends being rounded by turning the tops inward. The very choicest. are held for another month or two and are then packed in cans and shipped in cedarwood cases.

The inferior beans—those of poor size or quality are 'cut into pieces a41: sold at one-half to two-thirds the price of the best grades. They are known in trade circles

as "Cuts." Those which have split during the curing process are sold as "Splits." After storage for a short time, the beans generally show a white frosty coating of vanillin crystals. Neither the extent of the frosting nor the percentage of vanillin, the active principle of the bean, is however a test of quality, as it is the peculiar com bination of the vanillin with other flavors and odors which gives such high value to the Mexican beans—in vanillin itself they do not, as a rule, show as much as the cheaper East Indian varieties.

After the Mexican beans come the three following classes, named in the order of their commercial value : Bourbon, from the French East Indian Islands of Bourbon, or Reunion, Comores, Madagascar and Seychelles; South American, from the French West Indies, and Tahiti, or wild Vanilla Beans, from the French group of Society Islands, Pacific Ocean. They are shorter than the Mexican and the lower grades a great deal cheaper. The Tahiti hardly deserves the name, as its flavor resembles prune juice rather than Vanilla, and its fragrance, though indisputable, is rather that of heliotrope.

In making Vanilla Extract, the beans are cut fine and immersed in a mixture of grain alcohol and water. For the ordinary extract, the liquid is poured off a few days later and bottled, but a few manufacturers of the highest grade product allow it to remain in the casks for months and use the same casks for years, on the theory that this process gives a superior aroma. Many extracts also contain small percentages of sugar and glycerine.

The best vanilla extracts are made from high-grade Mexican beans. Medium grades come from lower quality Mexican beans, Mexican "Cuts," etc., and the other varieties of true vanilla beans, or their blends with Mexican beans. Low grade and imitation products are manufactured from Tahiti beans, artificial vanillin, coumarin (see TONKA BEAN), etc. Eugenol, a synthetic product containing the flavoring principles of Oil of Cloves, is the source of the bulk of the artificial vanillin used.

The vanilla bean is also sold to a small extent, whole and pow dered—the whole bean separately in glass tubes and the powder in cans or bottles—but a good ex tract, is more serviceable for the average consumer.

It is poor policy to either sell or buy cheap or imitation extracts. The genuine are infinitely superior in flavor and aroma and a little goes as far as a lot of the adulterated kind.