The vanilla bean is the fruit of a special orchid family of which there are thousands of varieties, but only one variety (vanilla plantifolia) bears anything edible. It is an expensive spice due to a labor-intensive and time-consuming process.
the maturing process
The vanilla orchid starts to flower around three years after planting. The flowers need to be pollinated so that the orchid can produce fruit, this is usually done by hand. The fruit which looks like a long green bean takes about two months to grow and a further eight months to mature before the green beans (also called a pod) are hand-picked for the next stage of the process. In order for the vanilla bean to develop its distinctive flavour and aroma, the hand-picked vanilla bean has to under go months of curing and drying before it can be used. By then the vanilla bean will have shrunk in size and have turned dark brown in colour. Cutting along the length of the vanilla bean reveals thousands of minute seeds which are used extensively in cooking. The three most common types are the Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla bean, Mexican vanilla bean and the Tahitian vanilla bean. Indonesia and India also grow orchids that produce vanilla beans.
I have a little stash of used glass bottles that I refuse to throw out because they look cute or I just like the shape (once they had some nice oils in them) and they look great when filled with your own infused oils. Most of these little bottles will hold about half or one cup of oil, so by infusing smaller amounts of oil at a time keeps everything tasting fresh. Putting the bottles into the dishwasher and running the hot cycle makes sure that they are really clean and sterilized before using.
How to make vanilla infused olive oil
Fill a small bottle ( mine was 1/2 cup) with a good quality olive oil which I prefer to use, extra virgin oil has a stronger taste which competes with the flavour of the vanilla.
Run the tip of a sharp knife down the length of the vanilla bean to reveal all those minute seeds and pop the whole vanilla bean (or cut in half to fit the bottle) into the glass bottle. Close and give the bottle a gentle shake which will release some of the seeds into the oil.
Store the bottle in a cool dark place for about a week to two weeks, (depends on the strength of the vanilla bean used) remembering to give the bottle a gentle shake every other day to help with the infusing process. Do taste the oil after a week or so and if you are happy with the flavour you can start using it. Remember…good things are worth waiting for!
This vanilla infused olive oil is a real store cupboard treat and one that I like to have a little supply at hand. The oil adds a hint of vanilla and sweetness to my finished dishes, for example…drizzled over some crostini with lemon ricotta or a seafood risotto are one of my many culinary uses.
Look out for more vanilla flavour!