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Posts tagged ‘vanilla’

6 Quick Steps To Make Your Own Homemade Pure Vanilla Extract

 

Did you know you can make your own pure vanilla extract at home with just a few ingredients? It’s not a mystery any longer and it’s a lovely gift to give to your favorite baker. As with any homemade product, there are several benefits to making your own. For one, you get to choose the quality of ingredients and know exactly what is in your vanilla extract. This means, you will have the highest quality vanilla extract available without anything artificial.

A few years back we decided as a family to give handcrafted gifts for the holidays instead of purchasing them. I was in search of what I could make that would be both fun and practical. That’s when I learned that I could make my own pure vanilla extract. Why had I not thought of this before?  Considering that nearly everything that is mass produced now were once made at home, it’s not that crazy of a thought that I could produce a gift that my family and friends would enjoy.

 

Vanilla bean pods

So what is pure vanilla extract? It is simply the extract (flavor and aroma) from the vanilla beans that have been immersed in alcohol (usually vodka because of it’s neutral flavor, but sometimes brandy or rum) over a period of time. The FDA requires;

“In vanilla extract the content of ethyl alcohol is not less than 35 percent by volume and the content of vanilla constituent, as defined in 169.3(c), is not less than one unit per gallon.”

So that means the vanilla extract you’ll find in the store, is 70 proof (35% alcohol) and it contains 13.35 oz of bean per gallon of alcohol which would produce a single strength vanilla extract. After more research I found that some bakers prefer a double strength vanilla extract and others do not. I am guessing it is a matter of preference.  I lean toward loving the scent of vanilla and enjoy baking with it so my recipe may have a wee bit more vanilla than others but since I’m making my own and not planning to sell it I can follow whatever guideline works for our baking needs and that is a nice pure vanilla extract that flavors our baked goods without overpowering them.

The vanilla bean grows from a kind of tropical orchid. The fruit starts out as a hard green pod and the greenish white flowers (missing in this photo) and in a natural setting are dependent on bees to pollinate them, but now in modern times they can be artificially pollinated.  These vanilla beans are picked unripe and then submerged in hot water to remove their protective cover and allow for the natural liquids to seep out. They are then allowed to dry in the sunlight and ferment. When they have turned brown and covered with a layer of vanillin crystals the vanilla beans are ready.

 

Kauai'i - Green vanilla pods on the vine -Steel Grass Chocolate tour

Unripe vanilla bean pods on the vine in Kauai

 

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And the winner for the Food with the Highest antioxidant Content is…. (drum roll please)

~Join us for our two-part series on the food with the highest antioxidant tour

Part 1

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Pure and simple, dark chocolate and cacao nibs top the charts in antioxidant levels ~ beating out acai berries, kale and broccoli on the Oxygen Radial Absorbance Capacity scale (more on this scale below). Shocked? I sure was when I recently learned this bit of information. Un-shockingly, my children were already rehearsing their “eat your broccoli” retorts.

Can it really be true? How did I stumble upon this fantastic news?

It all started when my daughter exclaimed, “chocolate grows on trees!”

Tour brochures lined up on our vacation condo’s counter top: chocolate, coffee, rice, taro etc. Eenie, Meeny, Miney, Moe…
Well, Miney and Moe are actually kids named Hannah and Eva and I guess that makes my husband Eenie and by default I’m the Meeny.

The meany who wants to add an educational aspect to our Hawaiian vacation. I’m sure you can see where this is going…

Steelgrass

Taro is island specific but no votes there; of the ag tours, rice (unfortunately), had no tours on our free days so the choice was between coffee and chocolate. I love both but would rather have the kids hyped up on vitamin B-12 goodness than buzzing on caffeine. Thankfully, they agreed.

After a little research, and a recommendation from some friends, we decided to check out the STEELGRASS family chocolate tour, which had an added bonus that included a voice over studio on site with the likes of Ben Stiller and Jack Black…read: now husband is on board too.

I spoke with Tony Lydgate, Steelgrass family owner, to confirm our Chocolate from Branch to Bar reservation and he said tours start at 9 am. I’m thinking; who doesn’t like chocolate for breakfast? The kids sure thought this was an excellent idea and that maybe the sun had gotten to my senses, but no one mentioned anything about that.

The evening prior to our tour, the children slept soundly with visions of Hawaiian chocolate dancing in their heads. Up bright and early like I’ve only seen on christmas morning they were ready to go devour their breakfast! It’s healthy right? Local, sustainable, organic, without additives; all the checks were there for our foodie family list, so why can’t we eat chocolate all the time? All you parents out there get ready because those answers we tell our kids that it is a treat are now debunked and I hear doctors are recommending a daily dose of dark chocolate.

Studies have found that eating dark chocolate daily can reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes.  What? I guess the trick is on me for wanting an educational tour, now our tour guides Michelle and Annabelle have my kids full attention and I’m taking notes on this brilliant way to educate all ages.

So the tour begins, by sharing that chocolate is made from cacao and yes, cacao grows on trees. But before we learn more about cacao our guides direct us through their grove of meticulously labeled tropical fruit trees, educating our tour group through our senses about each fruit.

No crazy Wonka tour here, all children and adults munched freely on sustainably grown, Tahitian Lime and sugar cane (known as KO) a sweet and tangy lime aid in yo’ mouth combination. Longan or Dragon Eye fruits that would be perfect in a bowl on Halloween, crimson red Mountain Apple and Lilikoi (passion fruit) and more, all without incident.

Soursop (Custard Apple)

Dragon Eye

Dragon Eye

Lilikoi (Passionfruit)

Blissfully meandering through the tropical trees, learning about Egyptian paper making from papyrus trees and smelling the bark of a cinnamon tree ~ the mission of our tours guides emerges.

This fantastic way of bringing in unassuming students, thinking only of chocolate bars to impart knowledge about sustainable agriculture, is like tossing zucchini into chocolate cake without the kids knowing.

A Truffula tree right? Nope it’s Papyrus

Cacao is a tree, and in order for us chocolate lovers to fully enjoy the purest foodie dark chocolate scrumptious delights, we need to understand that our delectable bar only needs four ingredients: cacao, sugar, vanilla and an emulsifier like soy lecithin or cacao butter. But from Branch to Bar so much more goes on behind the scenes.

Cacao Trees

Cacao trees with colorful pods

It’s a meeting of the minds at the Lydgate Farm with PhD’s, Oxford alumnae, musicians, artists and others that form a team who have come together to develop a sustainable agriculture program to teach others the same.

By sharing the behind the scenes chocolate creation process, Steelgrass shows the many stages of the production, and in so doing, they also show the excellence that comes from being a steward for sustainable agriculture on the Hawaiian Islands.  We learned that it takes healthy pollinators not limited to bees for the fruit trees but it’s tiny gnats that are able to pollinate the petite cacao flowers.  They use companion planting as a natural pest control and rely on collaboration and cooperation between neighboring cacao farmers.  This is their  hypothetical insurance policy, if disaster hits in the form of bugs, weather or other, then the diversification of plants, their various locations and different cacao farms, help ensure sustainability.  This all falls under the umbrella of the Kauai Cacao Cooperative for creating a homegrown chocolate industry on the island.

It is incredible to think that all these aspects and hard work go into making that dark flavorful chocolate available and so good for us to enjoy.  Once you understand you can’t forget and now that price of the chocolate bar makes sense. But it is perfect because, unlike milk chocolate where I could keep on eating more and more, I find that a small amount of dark chocolate hits the spot and I am satisfied…better for the environment, better for me..it’s a win~win.


Honey on bamboo

Honey on bamboo sticks

Join us next week for part 2 of our chocolate tour adventure!

Aloha kakou,

Rachelle @ Caramelize Life

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