Traverse City Record-Eagle

Feature Columnists

January 16, 2014

Foodie with Family: Vanilla not as 'plain' as you thought

Vanilla gets a bum rap for being boring.

Statements like “Plain as vanilla,” “That’s so vanilla!” “I didn’t like it. It was just too vanilla for me,” are pervasive in our society.

In my mind, vanilla is the polar opposite (as opposed to Polar Vortex) of boring. In all likelihood, this is probably partially due to the fact that the foods in which it appears are often white (much like the Polar Vortex.) It’s usually paired with other foods as a supporting actor; a role which it performs beautifully, but vanilla isn’t just a back-up singer. It may not have flashy visual appeal, but it has big flavor that stands perfectly well on its own.

The key to getting bold vanilla presence in food is to start with vanilla beans. Vanilla beans can be pretty costly if no one has clued you in on one of the best kept secrets of food frugality.

This is one case where bulk buying is seriously necessary. In my local grocery, it can run in the neighborhood of $12 for two beans. If I buy a half pound of them from, I pay something like $30. From eBay, that same half pound package is $15. One half pound of vanilla beans is approximately 30 beans. The two bean packages run at $6 a bean. The half-pound packages cost from $.50 to $1 per bean. It's a pretty huge savings and is more than enough to encourage me to indulge my adoration for vanilla.

Are you wondering at all what to do with thirty vanilla beans?

I promise that once they’re in your possession you’ll find many places to include them, but I’ll get you kick-started here with a handful of my favorites. A word of advice: store the vanilla beans in a tall jar with a tight fitting lid in a cool, dark un-refrigerated cabinet free from temperature fluctuations.

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