Vanilla: 6 beans (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Did you know that vanilla beans are seed pods from orchids? Quite misleading but true!

The vanilla plant grows as a vine. Growing and processing this orchid is labor intensive. The vine can grow over 30 feet tall and need secure support. These flowers must be hand pollinated. Each flower produces one vanilla bean. The pods need to be stripped and dried. All this care leaves vanilla beans to be a bit pricy.  

Most cooks use vanilla extract instead of paying for the high priced beans. Vanilla extract in its pure form comes from soaking the beans in alcohol, usually in vodka.

To use the bean itself you can grind it into a powder or infuse in liquid. For more intense flavor you can slice a pod open and scrap the seed into your mixture.

Vanilla enhances a number of dishes and draws the flavor out of chocolate.

What is your favorite recipe using vanilla? 

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