Tuesday, December 8, 2009

VANILLA EXTRACT - OVERRATED OR ESSENTIAL?

I have a confession to make, I ran out of vanilla extract. Not only did I run out of it, but I haven't used it in the last three recipes that called for it, and I DON'T MISS IT! All three dishes have turned out tasting very good, and I honestly didn't feel like the flavor was lacking in the least.

So I took to the all mighty internets, and found this Q & A:

Q: Almost all of the baking recipes I have used have called for vanilla extract. Is vanilla only included to add to the sweetness of a dessert? If I choose to substitute another kind of extract, such as almond extract, will the recipe not turn out correctly?

A: Have you ever tasted vanilla? If you have, you know it does not add any sweetness. In fact, it is one of the best smelling/foulest tasting items in your kitchen.

What it does add is an indescribable quality, a poetic quality, a depth, a richness – we would say a "je ne sais quoi," if it didn't make us blush so visibly.

You might have to compensate in the dish for the small amount of liquid your vanilla represents, but just leave it out of a recipe and you should be able to tell the difference right away. Or do as you suggest and substitute almond extract – we think you'll be shocked by the difference. It may turn out wonderfully and you may love it, but the difference between using vanilla and almond extract can be bigger than the difference between using butter and margarine. (We're not making any value judgments, just noting that there is big difference.)

On the one or two occasions we have forgotten to add vanilla extract to our semi-weekly batch of chocolate-chip cookies, we noticed right away that something was missing. They're still delicious, but they're much more one dimensional.

Vanilla functions a little like salt – it makes the other ingredients in your dish more interesting.



Hmmm, really? Are my taste buds failing me? If I ate two cookies, one with vanilla and one without would I be able to tell which was which? Would you? I don't know, but the next batch of cookies I make I'm going to be really tempted to put it to a test. Er, that is if I ever get to the store and buy me another vanilla.


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So I ask you all to leave your comments on vanilla and take a moment to answer the poll on vanilla in the upper left hand corner of this blog.

9 comments:

MinderMutsig (Kirsten) said...

Definitely overrated! It's foul, chemically and doesn't even taste like vanilla.
Use the real stuff or don't use it at all I say.

The same goes for cinnamon, rum and other extracts and essences.
Seriously, Rum cake without rum? They should hang the tasteless caveman who came up with that one.

*Is passionate about flavour*

Jessi McKinney said...

I happen to love vanilla extract. I find that most recipes tend to not ask for enough for my tastes, so its pretty much the same as not adding any at all. However, there is a fine line between just enough vanilla and too much, so maybe the recipes are just erring on the side of caution.

L said...

I prefer vanilla beans and make my own extract out of vodka. LOL

Liz said...

This is an ingredient where quality really counts! My mom makes special trips to Mexico just to buy their AMAZING vanilla. It's really inexpensive and GOOD. I'm spoiled now. If I try to use imitation vanilla... let's just say I'd rather leave it out! Vanilla isn't sweet. It just adds some warmth and complexity to a baked good.

My view: If it's not excellent quality I'd rather do without!

Almond extract is delicious and would change the flavor of the baked good. Maybe not in a bad way though.

blzcrzy said...

I really like the addition of vanilla extract. I make my own from beans and vodka. Whan using an alcohol based extract, like most are,it is vital that you add them at the end. If you heat extracts for too long you burn them off completely and evaporate all flavor. It will taste as if you never used them. Adversely, when you cook with wine you want to add it early enough that the alcohol burns off leaving the flavor of the wine.

bunnyshooz said...

I think that, if you use higher quality vanilla extract, it will be more noticeable if you use it or lose it. I'm personally a HUGE fan of vanilla---I throw a little into almost everything I bake.

Danielle said...

I'm a big fan of vanilla also but because I like to bake from scratch, I use a higher quality extract. I use a few different extracts. L, you have me intrigued. How are you making extract from vodka?

Anonymous said...

Jackie S.- Vanilla Extract is essential, to making a recipe that is GOOD...GREAT!

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