It may be heating up out there, sending us outside the kitchens to use our grills, but we can't forget one key reason to use the oven. Summertime means outside dining with family and friends, enjoying food favorites by the lake, the pool, or at a park. And what you must not forget at these gatherings are the baked goods. Steak and burgers and dogs may be the heart of these meals, and fresh farmers market watermelons, chips, and "salads" come along for the ride (really, salad can have marshmallows?), but the famous family cakes and cookies are a necessity as well.
What can truly distinguish a good cake or cookie, and even savory foods, is quality vanilla. Oh sure, you can find "imitation vanilla" in the supermarkets, made from propylene glycol, glycerin, and a little "artificial vanillin." Sounds positively yummy, doesn't it? Uh, no. Real vanilla is made from vanilla beans, and it grows in the ground. It has over 300 flavor compounds, and is a major reason all those "old timey" desserts from yesteryear are legendary. Vanilla wasn't boring, it was absolutely delicious!
Fast forward to the 21st century and mass produced food, and those bland supermarket bakery goods that mostly taste of sugar and cost next to nothing. Those are not made with real vanilla. If you're going to treat the family to your homemade goods rather than phone it in by picking up a plastic container of oversweet "blandies," why skimp on an essential ingredient like real vanilla?
All right, let's acknowledge the reality. It costs a lot more than the fake stuff. And in recent years the price has gone up dramatically. About a quarter of the world's vanilla comes from Madagascar, a little island nation off the southwest coast of Africa. It is a tremendously important crop, and the growing conditions here are ideal for producing what many regard as the best vanilla in the world. Producing this wonderful vanilla is labor-intensive, it isn't near a major, cost-effective transportation hub, there is only one growing season per year, and the crop is subject to the whims of mother nature. And mother nature has been cruel these last few years.
From the 2017 cyclones, to fires, mudslides, flooding, and the resulting pressures to pick beans too early, the supply and resulting price of vanilla has been under siege. Thankfully things have stabilized with a renewed commitment to sustainability and best practices, but skyrocketing demand from a rising middle class worldwide has kept prices from returning to pre-crisis levels.
Thankfully, you don't a need a lot of real vanilla to get that great taste in the final product. And for those of you who want the best, the most pure and real vanilla, we have it in stock: Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract. And for frostings where you want the little flecks of vanilla bean along with that top flavor, Vanilla Bean Paste. Yes, it is not cheap, but this is truly a case where you get what you pay for, in quality and purity.
Have a great summer and bake some smiles onto those faces!
Fun fact: Madagascar "Bourbon" vanilla does not mean there is bourbon in the extract. As Neilsen-Massey explains, "Bourbon is a geographic reference to the Bourbon Islands–Madagascar, Comoro, Réunion, Seychelles and Mauritius–which are located off the eastern coast of Africa. While there is a small amount of alcohol in our extracts, most it will either be cooked off during preparation or spread throughout the entirety of your dish."
A cyclone in Madagascar has made vanilla four times as expensive - Quartz
Anthony Bourdain's Field Notes - Madagascar - Parts Unknown
Recipe - Nielsen-Massey Signaure BBQ Sauce - NielsenMassey.com
Hey Chef, What Savory Dishes Can I Make With Vanilla? - seriouseats.com
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