Friday, 16 September 2016

Vanilla dilemma

It’s all very well to promise natural ingredients, but major corporations have triggered a vanilla crisis.

World production of natural vanilla is minute and has been falling in recent years. Did you know that less than 1% of vanilla flavour comes from actual vanilla orchids?

With demand increasing, there is a serious shortage of this fragrant and special orchid. Vanilla is a labour-intensive crop, requiring 600 hand-pollinated blossoms to produce a single kilo of cured beans. Beans are picked while still green and sold to fermentation plants where workers sort, blanch, steam, and dry the beans in the sun. They are then sorted again, dried in the shade, and fermented while workers continually evaluate their aroma and inspect each bean for quality.

Farmers can get funding from organic or fair trade organisations, but it is difficult to plant more orchids because their farms are often quite small. Even then, it takes four years for those vines to reach maturity.
Scientists are trying to produce more and better substitutes, such as vanillin. For instance, one option would be to engineer yeast to make vanillin from raw materials such as molasses, which contains ferulic acid.  

There’s a fascinating article about the problem, along with the quirky history of the vanilla plantation – and the flavour wheel, used by the food community to track the specific attributes of an ingredient, food, or beverage. One such vanilla wheel measures 29 distinct flavour characteristics grouped into ten main categories: smoky, spicy, botanical, sulphury, sweet, creamy, medicinal, cooked, fatty, and floral.

And just like wine, natural vanilla grown in different places, such as Madagascar, Mexico, or Tahiti, has different taste and potency profiles. Bake Off fans might be interested to know that Madagascar vanilla, typically called Bourbon vanilla, is highly sought for its rummy taste and sweet aroma. 

 I learn something new every day.

Read more here.

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