Take a look through some of the most popular, enduring confectionery and baked goods recipes over the last hundred years and you’ll find one key lynchpin ingredient that unites them – vanilla.
Vanilla’s sweet, gentle flavour has made its mark on the culinary landscape and beyond. As well as cakes, buns and sweet treats, vanilla is also a popular addition to food and beverage recipes and is even used in perfumes and personal care products.
In fact, the flavour has become such a noted staple that its name has become synonymous with ubiquity. Vanilla has truly become the gold standard – so much so that some see it as a safe, ‘boring’ choice. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. As it turns out, vanilla isn’t quite so vanilla!
Vanilla has a fascinating history and a multitude of exciting applications. Looking for an exciting, marketable spin on classic favourites? It’s time to think ‘outside the pod’ and find out more about vanilla.
The origin of vanilla
The orchid is the broadest group of flowering plants in the world, and vanilla is the only edible fruit in the orchid family. Because of the climate needed to successfully grow crops, vanilla is cultivated in a narrow 20-degree geography either side of the equator, which provides the optimum heat and moisture for the plant.
Historically, vanilla has been one of the most labour-intensive food ingredients. So much so that until manual pollination of the plant was introduced in 1841, a technique still used today, only a specific genus of bee would pollinate the vanilla flower, making crops much more sought-after than many of its alternatives.
Across the Gulf of Mexico, the Olmec civilisation, 1600BCE to 350 BCE, was the first society known to use wild vanilla as a flavouring for food and drink. Several millennia later, vanilla first left Mexico as a rare export and became so valuable in fact, that many tropical regions that grew and harvested the fruit suffered from ‘vanilla rustling’.
While sometimes thought of as simply a reliable base flavour to build on, the truth is that vanilla today exhibits a very broad spectrum of uses. For food manufacturers willing to explore the possibilities, vanilla isn’t just relegated to a reliable flavour profile base; it can be the main event too.
The hidden power of vanilla is its flexibility and versatility, able to fit an expansive number of recipes or applications. It can pack a powerful punch in any role!
An area that may not be immediately obvious, is that vanilla flavouring has a growing role in savoury recipes too. It can provide a gustatory contrast to sharper savoury flavours, and dance across the palette to truly wow in adventurous gastronomy.
Outside the kitchen, vanilla has also been used in some of the most popular fragrances across the globe. It has proved popular as a strong base note to provide sweetness and longevity, and occasionally as a heart note; the core character of the fragrance. Vanilla has also been used in industrial settings and manufacturing, where the scent is used to mask the odour of heavy machinery, oils and lubricants.
For a long time, Madagascan Vanilla has been the predominant variety used in commercial applications, and while still a popular choice, there is a much wider spectrum to choose from.
At Cornelius, we offer an impressive portfolio of sustainably sourced high-performance vanillas that deliver significant competitive advantages to new product developments from the outset and provide real wow factor in food blends and recipes!
The selection, provided by vanilla specialist Nielsen Massey, includes five extracts from around the world that boast distinct flavour profiles. Cold-extracted to retain the robust flavour characteristics that consumers love, the vanillas available from Cornelius add rich tones to both new and existing recipes.
Alongside the well-known Tahitian and Madagascar Bourbon vanilla extracts, the selection includes additional global varieties including Indonesian vanilla extract, noted for its woody and smoky flavour and aroma, Ugandan vanilla extract that boasts bold and creamy base notes, and the unique flavour profile of Mexican vanilla extract, which offers spicy-sweet notes offset with deep, rich tones.
The tantalising aroma of vanilla, alongside its robust flavour profile and ease of use have made it a mainstay of cooking; and a real consumer favourite. As long as there has been commercial food and drink, there has been vanilla. The flavour has long proved a hit with consumers and offers a reliable and surprisingly flexible ingredient for manufacturers.
The vanilla product range supplied by Cornelius is responsibly sourced, supporting the company’s significant commitments to ethical manufacturing and distribution. Partner Nielsen Massey also has key initiatives in place to strengthen the sustainable global harvest of vanilla, including ethical curing practices and fair-trade policies for farmers.
The food and drink markets are seeing a surge in the demand for ‘global flavours’, with consumers looking for an experience that delivers quality. The diverse and powerful range of vanillas that Cornelius supplies to the UK market makes a highly attractive proposition for brands and formulators of every size.
Because of its ubiquity across generations and incomparable popularity, it’s easy to see vanilla as simply predictable. In reality, it’s complex, delicate – and a real asset to the food and drink market.
It’s time to rediscover vanilla!