La vanille

It’s hard to play favourite with vanilla.

Tahitian vanilla (or for the geeks out there, and that includes me, Vanilla tahitensis) is a bit of a outsider – considered its the only vanilla to contain heliotropin – with its floral burst and nutty undertones.
Due to very volatile components, the flavour can be strong at first only to melt into a kind of happy pot-pourri.

Both Mexican and Bourbon vanilla are Vanilla planifolia. Only the killing method of the beans changes, resulting in either moist or ever-so woody texture.
And also very sublte variations in flavour.

Mexican pods are killed on the ground, under the heat of a noon-kind-of sun. They have a distinct earthiness to them. And caramel notes.

Madagascar beans, also known as Bourbon, keep some moisture after a quick blanching. And if you’re looking for the vanilla flavour of your childhood, then they are your new best friends.

Now, what is your favourite vanilla?

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On my side of the world, I like to use a combination of Bourbon and Tahiti vanilla. Somewhere along the lines of six Madagascar beans for three Tahitian ones.

Which is actually the very fundamental of my nine-pod vanilla ice-cream. So speckled with seeds it has the tint of the golden hour.

Cooking does feel like magic at times. Most of the time, in fact.

But when you sink a few used vanilla pods into a sugar syrup, close your eyes and fast-forward to two days later only to discover jewels, it really is. Magic.

Or science.

I’ve found the recipe in Thierry Marx’s dessert book, which I can’t wait to explore.

In a large pan, bring 250g of water and 500g of caster sugar to the boil. Pour into a deep plastic container and allow to cool.
Trim a couple of used vanilla pods and push them into the syrup. Forget about it for two days or more. Gently pat dry with a cloth. Use as decoration or as a stirrer for your favourite cup of tea.

An update on the home-made vanilla extract. The jar has been refilled twice. And emptied – every time – in shot glasses, preferably at the very first minutes of dawn. After a night made of laughs, indie music and kisses.

It’s certainly not the best way to use it but damn, it tastes that good.

One time, if I remember right, we even hollowed a watermelon and poured the whole jar inside. Straws were a must back then. And it was deliciously boozy.

Last week, we faced a sad moment when we came to the realisation it was time to clean the jar and start some new extract. Eight weeks to go before we can sing off-key again.

Because the simplest things don’t always seem like it…

To remove the seeds from a vanilla pods, I flatten the bean with a small knife, then slice lengthway and scrape away.

Don’t forget to keep the used beans. Blend them with caster sugar for instant vanilla sugar, or stick them in your home-made vanilla extract, or candy them as above…


  1. fanny, you’ve written a great introduction to vanilla.
    as a pastry chef, i have also got to know the differences between vanillas with different qualities and origins.
    it’s always a pleasure to read your blog!

  2. I love Vanilla from the island “La Réunion”. It is the same bean as in Madagascar but the harvesting is not in one time, every day, as the beans are ripe. That is why this Vanilla is very flavorful !!!

  3. We get vanilla from India here in Dubai – it’s not quite up to the heady heights of Madagascan but is really affordable so I can use it with abandon. Love the demo gif. How did you make your beautiful vanilla pod drawings?

  4. Here in New Zealand we get vanilla beans from the Pacific Islands (Tonga). Recently, a company started growing them in NZ to allow visitors to see how they grow and to hand-pollinate on the one day of the year that they need pollinating. It’s all rather beautiful. So, my favourite are Tongan beans :)

  5. As Loulou has already said : vanilla from my beloved “Île de La Réunion”. Indeed, it is named Bourbon Vanilla because La Réunion was called Bourbon until 1848, when the island was the first vanilla producer in the world (see, for example :
    Unfortunately, today it is not very easy to find some even on the island itself ; this is such a shame because the quality is incomparable.

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