Second only to saffron in price, vanilla is one of those spices we toss into our recipes without a second thought. Even the word "vanilla" is used to describe that which is boring or bland; we've forgotten just how cool this stuff really is.
The history of vanilla is ancient and just as exciting and dark as its flashier cousin, chocolate, replete with explorers, slavery, colonialism and now, the spectre of deforestation, habitat loss, and poor growing conditions because of climate change.
Most of our moms probably kept a little bottle of vanilla extract in the pantry. More recently, home cooks have been introduced to the joys of baking with the whole vanilla pod or at least, the miniscule, sticky, black, seeds and paste scraped out from the inside of a wrinkly, dried pod. And to squeeze every last hint of vanilla essence out of the expensive little bean, some even pop that scraped-out pod into a bag of sugar or bottle of vodka to add lovely aromatics.
Whole Spice, a company out of Napa, Calif., has found one more way to use every last speck: vanilla powder.
With a much subtler aroma and flavour to the liquid sort or whole bean, and a crunchy texture, it's ideal for adding to melted chocolate, as it won't cause a sudden drop in temperature, and for hot drinks, because its aromatics won't dissipate in the steam.
The beans they use are grown in Madagascar, Uganda, and Indonesia and aged for six months before being shipped to California where they are ground and bottled to order. 2.6 ounces for $18 from www.kaufmann-mercantile.com.