The vanilla orchid is native to Mexico although Madagascar is now the worlds largest producer supplying 59% of total production, it is the second most expensive spice with only saffron costing more. The vanilla bean is actually the seed pod of the vanilla orchid, a plant which is not at all easy to grow. Each flower must be pollinated by hand and each bean must be harvested by hand, the beans then have to be dried and cured for several months before they can be used. The whole process is very labour intensive so if you've ever wondered why vanilla costs so much, that's why!
Although buying vanilla from the shops is expensive it's surprisingly easy to make your own extract, all you need are vanilla beans, vodka and patience. It will take 2 months before it is ready to use but after that you should never run out again, just top it up with vodka and add a fresh bean every once in a while.The vanilla beans themselves are widely available online (try Ebay and Amazon) and at a fraction of the price of the supermarkets, it is well worth ordering in bulk as they keep for a couple of years well wrapped.
To make your own Vanilla Extract
You will need:
- A 350ml bottle of vodka (Cheap stuff is fine for this)
- 5 vanilla beans