The quality of our ingredients is vitally important at The Gift of Cake. Vanilla is used to flavour ice-cream, cakes, chocolate and other desserts. But how much do you know about it?
It’s a fascinating ingredient. Derived from a climbing orchid vine that produces long dangling green pods about the size of runner beans. The Aztecs (in what we now call Mexico) cultivated the vines and valued their special flavour. Europe’s love affair with vanilla started when Spanish conquistadors brought back plants to Europe in the 1520’s.
A huge amount of work goes into providing vanilla and it’s worth sparing a thought for the efforts of the hundreds of people in the supply chain. For a start, pollinating the flowers is a very labour intensive process, literally done by hand for every flower. After harvesting, the pods are dried in the sun and they turn into long, black, thin and wrinkled pods which contain thousands of tiny black seeds. These provide the unique sweet fragrance and smooth flavour we all know so well. The drying process is long and arduous needing a lot of care to ensure the quality of the final cured pods and seeds.
The world’s expert at growing and curing vanilla is Madagascar. It accounts for about 40% of the world crop and it’s the best. Other major producers are Madagascar’s neighbouring islands in the Indian Ocean, along with Indonesia, Tahiti and Mexico.
But beware, it is estimated that 95% of the vanilla flavouring in the food industry uses artificial vanilla flavour. The synthetic product is made from a by-product of the wood pulp industry. That’s not a very appetising thought. Real vanilla is difficult to produce in volume so it is highly prized and expensive. It’s the second most expensive spice after saffron.
Rest assured, at The Gift of Cake we only use REAL vanilla for our cakes and it comes from the finest Madagascar pods.