I have written about locally grown vanilla bean pods before, and was thrilled to have such an essential baking ingredient grown locally. Plump vanilla bean pods or pure vanilla extract (made from soaking the vanilla beans in alcohol) are an absolute must for bakers who seek superior results. I used to have to rely on hoarding pure vanilla extract whenever we went on trips abroad or relatives kindly brought some back with them during their annual visits. The first few vanilla beans I featured could have been grown in and around the Davao area, and lately, I have been advised that there are growers from Bukidnon who also harvest commercial quantities. There are several varieties of vanilla, but the Tahitian strain and the ones grown in Madagascar are amongst the most sought after globally. The vanilla orchid blooms and for just one day the flower must be pollinated (by hand) in order to coax the bean pod with thousands of flavorful seeds within.
In the last 2-3 months, the fresh bean pods have been scarce, and my stash in the fridge has been dwindling. So imagine my absolute glee at the Salcedo market last Saturday when i set up the feeding program ornament pick-up table across from the Herbana Farms tent and they had lots and lots of fresh vanilla bean pods and even better pure extract (Manila Vanilla brand name)! I was thrilled. I bought four bean pods (the plumpest ones), some extract and some coco sugar for some PHP800 or so. Fantastic. Thank you Gil and RT for giving some space in your tent to Manila Vanilla… I am so thrilled that they are now offering their products at the market. I did a blind sniff test between the local vanilla extract and my favorite imported brand. I have to say that the imported one was smoother and noticeably less alcohol like, more mellow, but at 2-3x the price, I think the local one will do just fine compared to its imported cousins. You can’t really taste pure vanilla extract, it is a bit strong, but the proof will be in the final baked goods… As for the coco sugar, I bought it out of curiousity as Gil said it was okay for diabetics to enjoy this sugar as opposed to cane sugar. Not sure why that is, but I have to say it was sweet and with a pleasant flavor. I have no idea what to do with it, but if you wanted some coco sugar, hit the same Herbana stall on Saturdays!