Vanilla, the world’s best-loved spice
With its irresistible aroma and ability to transform a dish into a delicacy, vanilla has earned a special place in hearts and kitchens around the world.
A sweetly fascinating universe, that of Madagascar vanilla has won over both Loison Pasticceri and Slow Food.
The epic journey from the land of its origins, to Europe and then around the world
Vanilla embarked on an epic journey from its land of origin, Mexico, to Europe in the 16th century. Thanks to Spanish explorers, who were fascinated by its scent, vanilla was brought to the Old Continent, attracting great interest and admiration.
For a long time, Mexico maintained a monopoly on vanilla production, jealously guarding the secrets of its cultivation. However, over the centuries, knowledge and cultivation techniques spread, paving the way for vanilla production in different territories such as Madagascar, Tahiti, Réunion, and Indonesia, contributing their own distinctive characteristics to the global landscape of vanilla production.
Why is vanilla so valuable and expensive?
First of all, it must be said that the plant requires specific climatic and environmental conditions to grow, but more importantly it requires careful care, a delicate method of hand pollination, and a lengthy processing to give the product the characteristic aroma we all know: to simplify, after harvesting the pods are soaked in hot water to stop the vegetative growth of the fruit and activate the chemical-enzymatic processes necessary to release vanillin; then a slow and laborious process of drying in the sun and then in the shade in ventilated environments is necessary to lose much of the moisture and refine the aroma; this is followed by a rest of several months for a stabilization and final sorting based on quality of the result.
Sweet and savory flavorings and pairings
With its rich inebriating aroma, vanilla is the ideal spice for desserts especially cream, creams, the well-known vanilla ice cream, and why not to flavor Bourbon Whiskey! It is a classic pairing with many fruits such as peaches, citrus, strawberries, apples and rhubarb. It is often taken up to reinforce other flavors such as chocolate, coffee and warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
Finally, it is increasingly in vogue to pair vanilla with savory dishes particularly seafood such as scallops and lobster, and to bring an unexpected note to vegetables such as squash and sweet potatoes.
Unusual recipe: vanilla butter
Vanilla is too often relegated to the end of meals, but its incredible aroma makes it an enticing flavor enhancer for many foods. Vanilla butter can be ideal for this role, to complement vegetables, roasted meats or seafood: simply brush it on or let it gently melt over the ingredient.
Vanilla butter recipe (taken from the book “The Flavor Matrix” 1)
- 225 g softened unsalted butter,
- seeds of ½ vanilla pod,
- 2 teaspoons salt,
- ½ teaspoon black pepper from a whirlwind,
- ½ teaspoon ground coriander
In a small bowl combine all ingredients and mix until smooth and homogeneous. Transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks (for longer in the freezer).
Madagascar vanilla, Loison Pastry Chefs and the Slow Food Presidium
Dario Loison has always had a deep passion for spices, recognizing their value and worth. For him, vanilla has been a long cherished dream, but in the early 2000s, information on superior vanilla production was not as readily available and easily accessible as it is today thanks to the Internet. The spark was ignited during a visit to the Botanical Garden of Padua, the oldest in the world, founded in 1545. There, with the support of experts and botanists, he was able to connect with a small artisan family from Madagascar, the Ranja family, who have been cultivating and refining vanilla for four generations since 1924. Since the early 2000s, therefore, Madagascar vanilla has become a constant presence in Loison Pasticceri’s sweet creations, thanks to the special bond established by Dario Loison with this family, which has led to new ideas and customizations in production and processing.
Moreover, in this same wake, a close collaboration with Slow Food was born, aimed at finding a variety of Vanilla that would respect Carlin Petrini’s motto, “good, clean, fair.” Loison’s contribution also led to the creation of the Slow Food Presidium of the Mananara Vanilla from Madagascar, an initiative strongly supported by Dario Loison, a Slow Food member since 1995, when it was then called Arcigola, who has always adhered to Slow Food’s philosophy without any economic purpose.
1 The book can be found at the Library of Taste Loison Museum.