Updated: Feb 11, 2019
Plain ‘ole Vanilla, eh?
Actually… there is nothing plain about Vanilla!
Vanilla belongs to the Orchid family and is the only orchid to bear fruit. It flowers just once a year and needs to be pollinated by hand, a process that can occur in only a very small window: in the morning between just 8 a.m. and noon time. This is why Vanilla is most labour-intensive food product in the world!
The growing process alone can last up to 9 months. Only once the beans are laid out to dry and cure do they start to develop their famous aroma, and this is a process which can take yet another 9 months! The entire process from hand pollination to finished bean takes about 1.5 years!
As most of you are aware, the vanilla industry is currently in crisis (the cyclone in Madagascar in 2017 ruined whatever was left from an already bad harvest, thanks to climate change) and there is an acute shortage of vanilla beans.
Market prices for Madagscan Vanilla beans have totally sky rocketed and currently dabble about 650 euro a kilo!
To compare: they were about 100 euro a kilo in 2014 when we first opened our shop!
Demand is high (not just from the food industry but also from the cosmetics industry) and there is simply not enough vanilla in the world!
Due to the high costs of production, we went without Vanilla for a while, but had a lot of customers asking – if not begging – for it. We do not create a cheaper Vanilla ice cream with inferior Vanilla aromas, powders or flavorings! And for this reason, we need to charge a little more for a truly artisan Vanilla ice cream! And not just this but we have the absolute honor of being able to source beans from two countries: Madagascar and Ecuador. We are certain you can taste the difference…
Why does our Vanilla ice cream look different?
Because of the high costs involved with purchasing real vanilla beans, the vast majority of Vanilla ice cream is made using “natural Vanilla flavoring” (which actually is not so “natural”) or synthetic vanilla aromas. Not in our kitchen, though!
A lot of customers ask us why our Vanilla ice cream is white – they say they are used to vanilla ice cream being yellow. On the days we offer our passionfruit sorbet, a lot of people actually point to it and ask if that is vanilla.
If you have ever used a real vanilla bean in cooking or baking then you will know that it is indeed, not yellow. When you open the pod there are millions of tiny little black vanilla beans, or seeds. These are also not yellow.
The only thing that is yellow about some vanilla ice cream is the yellow food coloring used to make it look like what most people have come to expect. We realize now, after several years of artisan ice cream making and engaging with our customers, that many people have unfortunately never tasted a truly “real” vanilla ice cream until we gave them a sample. And truthfully, their first impression is either “this is REAL, yes!” or “this doesn’t taste like the vanilla I know”. To boot, market tests have shown that people often prefer artificially flavored vanilla ice creams SIMPLY because it is the taste they are most familiar with!
Real Vanilla vs. Fake Vanilla
Real vanilla is such a complex flavour that it actually cannot be replicated. Real and pure vanilla has anywhere between 250 and 500 different organic flavour components
This has not stopped anyone from trying! Due to the high costs and harvest shortages, chemists have been trying to replicate the vanilla flavour for a very long time. In fact one of the first chemists to do so was a German one, named Ferdinand Tiemann. Back in 1875 (see, I told you they have been trying for a really long time) Tiemann patented the process for making synthetic vanillin using coniferin, the glucoside which gives pine trees a faint vanilla-like scent.
“Vanillin is actually a naturally occurring component in vanilla beans however the extraction process turns it into a synthetic ingredient”. While vanillin is naturally occurring in beans, it is also one of the few chemical components in a vanilla bean which can actually be replicated in a lab. Synthetic vanillin is also known as C8H8O3 or 4-hydroxy-3-methoxy-benzaldehyde and is popular across many industries, as it smells and tastes close to the real thing, and is considerably cheaper.
In the US, they are using castoreum, which uhm… well… it comes from a beaver’s bottom… we’ll leave the rest to your imagination but if you live in the EU you can rest assured that using castoreum is actually not allowed. But we want to note, that as optimistic skeptics, we can’t be sure that it doesn’t happen anyway (for example, if a producer buys a synthetic vanilla aroma from outside of the EU which has not been labelled correctly)
Synthetic vanilla has also been created using eugenol (naturally occurring in clove oil), coumarin (found in a few plants, most notably tonka beans), coal tar, and by-products of wood pulp – most of which are indeed from “natural” sources are really FAR from the real thing!
Pure Vanilla Extract is also a thing, as you may have seen in the local supermarket. It is made by macerating chopped vanilla beans with alcohol and water. In the USA, the FDA requires a minimum of 13.25 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon with 35% alcohol and 65% water. However there are no regulations about which kinds of beans are to be used (often lesser quality) and while 35% is the required minimum, a lot of extracts contain much more alcohol. There are also no regulations about additional ingredients such as colourings, sugars, stabilizers for example. So really, one needs to ask themselves just how “pure” the “pure vanilla extract” really is.
For this reason, we stick to 100% real vanilla beans from either Madagascar or Ecuador. Absolutely no short cuts, ever. Nothing else! We would rather not offer Vanilla ice cream than have to make it with a substitute (we are called TRUE & 12 for a reason…)
What should truly real Vanilla ice cream look like?
First of all, vanilla ice cream should not be yellow. Nor should it be black (a current trend across ice cream stores)
Back in the day, eggs were used in a lot of ice cream recipes and the eggs were fresh from the farm and their yolks were a stunning deep orange. Those days are sadly over! While some ice cream is still made with eggs, the yolk is rarely the colour it should be and would never turn your vanilla ice cream yellow (unless the ice cream maker is using farm fresh eggs from amazingly raised chickens, which, while this is still possible it is very rare). Chances are that yellow vanilla ice cream has been artificially coloured. And to the recent extremely instagrammable “black vanilla” ice cream trend, it is activated charcoal that makes it black and not vanilla.
You should see little black specks from the vanilla bean! But you will actually need to look closely! Some people use coffee grinds (or other nonsense) to re-create the effect. The specks should be perfectly round and tiny. And you should see more than just 2 or 3… So a real vanilla ice cream should be white or off-white with a lot (by a lot we mean hundreds if not thousands) or little black specks which should be real vanilla beans. Stop in to our place and have a taste!
Stay True Tip: want to test the quality of an ice cream shop? There are two flavours you should try: Vanilla and/or Pistachio. A truly artisan ice cream maker will offer both of these and have also mastered them! And the rule of thumb in the ice cream world is that you can test the overall quality of an ice cream shop on just these two flavours!