December 9, 2023

Cacao, a food of the gods, as well as Vanilla, the second-most costly spice on the planet, are the supreme rulers for the industry of sweetness. This is the reason why they are often paired for the perfect taste.

Most times, when Cacao is present, you’ll also see Vanilla: in chocolate couverture, in the form of hot chocolate, cake mix chocolate bars, and spreadable chocolate creams mixed with ice-creams. There’s no way to avoid Vanilla in Cacao. The two should stick together in the literal sense!

Is Vanilla the ideal companion to Cacao? Do you think Vanilla makes chocolate better, or does it, in fact, damage its image? Do you see a difference in the use of Vanilla and its purpose between craft and industrial chocolate?

What year did Vanilla the first time come into contact with Cacao?

Forget about the vanilla-loving Madagascar, which produces 80 percent of all Vanilla around the world. It is believed that the very first group of people who grew Vanilla are those of the Totonacs of Mexico, who lived in the present-day Veracruz, the port city along the Gulf of Mexico coast.

The Totonacs believed that Vanilla was a sacred herb and utilized it as a basis for rituals and medicines. However, there’s no historical evidence that they added Vanilla to beverages or food items as a flavoring. It wasn’t until after the Aztecs fought the Totonacs in 1480 that Vanilla was introduced to the world. Totonacs, around 1480, that Vanilla came into contact with Cacao in their sacred cacao cups.

Illustration depicting one Aztec woman who pours chocolate from one cup into another in order to make the appearance of foam.

Following the conquest of the Totonacs, Vanilla was one of the spices that were brought to Europe during the fifteenth century. Along with sugar, the Spanish royals enjoyed cacao beverages regardless of their bitter flavor as the French began flavoring ice cream and desserts with Vanilla.

It was in 1841, on the islands of Reunion, which was a French colony at the time when the technique of hand pollination in the production of Vanilla was first located and the reason Madagascar was and is the main source of Vanilla.

What does Vanilla really smell like?

Before diving into the relation between Cacao and Vanilla, it’s crucial to make one thing obvious: the fact that Vanilla isn’t going to smell sweet. It’s at least not as sweet as we would like it to be. The tiny seeds taken from wrinkled pods are black and have a bitter taste with floral and earthy undertones. Sometimes, they are spicy, at best, creamy in the most exquisite varieties. If you purchase a vanilla pod from the market, then open it and sniff the fresh seeds, “sweet” won’t be among the first words that pop into your mind.

The reason we believe Vanilla is a sweet flavor. Sweet taste because it is a hugely popular ingredient in sweet desserts like ice cream and pastries, cookies, bonbons, milkshakes, and all kinds of sweets. We, therefore, associate the place where we can find Vanilla with the flavor of Vanilla. There aren’t many (or even any?) items on the market that allow us to taste the true flavor of Vanilla.

Sometimes, it is accompanied by sugar and often accompanied by milk and sugar; Vanilla can be usually thought of as more of a flavoring than a food item that is recognized as a flavoring by itself. As we’ll see later, Vanilla is also able to enhance the sweetness of different ingredients in the mix, so it’s natural to associate Vanilla with sweetness. Keep in mind, however, that the perception of sweetness associated with Vanilla in our minds is not the same as Vanilla’s true sweetness.

In reality, we’ll get Vanilla in various forms, but it is important to understand the difference between these varieties.

Take care of kinds of “Vanilla.”

Pistacchio di Bronte is a high-end type of Italian pistachio, which is harvested only two times per year by hand, over 1500 hectares within the Province of Catania (Sicily). In 2021, the production was just two hundred tonnes however, all over Italy, any pistachio found in ice creams or spreadable creams, nut mix, as well as desserts can be (misleadingly) labeled in the form of “di Bronte”.

There are many varieties of Vanilla, but not all sold on the market are derived from authentic vanilla pods.

The total production worldwide of Vanilla is around 2000 tons, which is just a tiny fraction in terms of the demand for this particular spice. A majority of vanilla-flavored items on shelves in the supermarket don’t actually have pure Vanilla, but rather, the extract is an imitation or derivative.

On the list of ingredients on a bar of chocolate, you will see Vanilla in various ways, depending on how it was made. To be clear:

Whole Vanilla Beans These are fresh seeds extracted from vanilla pods. This is the most organic and cost-effective option that can leave visible black seeds after adding them to food items.

Vanilla Bean Paste is less time-consuming and more expensive than vanilla beans. Vanilla paste is made from the seeds that have been scraped from the vanilla pod that are suspended in a thick extract.

Vanilla Extract is the most well-known choice in baking. Vanilla extract is created by taking vanilla seeds fresh and placing them in an alcohol solution and water. The most affordable versions include corn syrup, sugar, or dextrose.

Vanilla Imitator This can be called the artificial vanilla version and is the most affordable option available. Based on specific woods and oils in place of the vanilla pods, this flavoring has only vanillin that is synthetic and does not contain the flavoring ingredients which give Vanilla its distinct aroma.

Vanilla, The Villain in Fine-Flavor Chocolate?

In the industry of fine chocolate, Vanilla is usually at the forefront of major debates.

The majority of the craft bean-to-bar chocolate makers agree that Vanilla doesn’t belong in the category of fine chocolate. The purpose of high-end chocolate is to allow the authentic flavor of each cacao type and origin to shine through without interferences. They include subtle and delicate notes of taste, which are meticulously maintained and sought-after throughout the process of making chocolate.

Roasting is maintained at moderate temperatures. Refining is very minimal. Conching is meticulously scheduled. These efforts are all designed to show the best characteristics of a particular type of Cacao present in every chocolate. Due to its intense flavor, Vanilla can suffocate and block out a lot of these exquisite flavors that experts have invested so much time in trying to bring to the forefront. This is the primary reason vanilla is, in the best case, unneeded and, at worst, harmful: it ruins the appeal of the fine-flavor chocolate.

But there are many different opinions on this issue. Not every craft professional in chocolate can agree with this.

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