by Tyler Morrison
Who doesn’t like vanilla? The worst it can be accused of is being boring, or inoffensive. It is mild and warm with subtle undertones. No sweet confectionary is complete without it, and I’m seeing it start to sneak its way into some savory recipes! Vanilla in chili? Vanilla based fish marinade? This stuff is out there, and we don’t want to be behind the curve of culinary trends. So, let’s break down exactly how vanilla works its inconspicuous brilliance.
Vanilla comes from the string-bean-like pod of a climbing orchid, whose greenish-white flowers bloom briefly and are without fragrance. In fact, the aroma and taste of vanilla don’t adorn the growing plant at all. It’s only as the beans ferment to wrinkled brown pods and that famous robust aroma starts to fill the air.
Since the blossoms last only one day, they must be hand-pollinated on an exacting schedule. The beans mature after 6 weeks of fertilization but cannot be harvested for some months longer. Good quality beans are left on the vine for as long as the growing season will allow to develop more complex flavor profiles.
When the beans are deemed to be perfectly matured, the farmers plunge the beans in scalding hot water to immediately arrest the ripening process. They then are dried and processed, using sweating boxes, blankets, racks, ovens (and various other medieval torture devices, I assume); and slowly cure them in the sun for six to nine months to bring the moisture content down to around 30%.
Moisture content, bean length, and condition determine vanilla bean quality. Moisture Content is one of the most important aspects of high-grade vanilla. Grade A (Gourmet Grade) vanilla beans are extremely moist. Oils should be visible on the outside of the vanilla bean and the bean will leave a residue on your fingers after touching. Vanilla beans with high moisture content will be soft to the touch and highly flexible when bent. It is common to see the oils extend from the vanilla bean when packaged in vacuum sealed bags. This is a characteristic of extremely high-quality vanilla.
The bean length is also an indication of vanilla quality. Grade A vanilla beans are typically over 6 inches, or 15 cm, in length. Grade A vanilla beans should also be flexible and soft to the touch. Vanilla beans that appear to be stiff, split, or cracked are considered Grade B or Grade C.
As with wine, the location which the vanilla is grown plays a large role in the aroma and flavor profiles of a vanilla bean. In addition to unique weather patterns and soil types, each country has an individual method of curing and drying vanilla beans. So many unique curing processes results in an equally large difference in flavors produced by the vanilla bean.
There are three main species of vanilla that are produced commercially. These include vanilla planifolia, vanilla tahitiensis, and vanilla pompona. Each species has unique characteristics. The planifolia species is grown throughout much of the world, from Hawaii to Mexico to Madagascar and is by far the most heavily produced. This species is typically more round and plump compared to the other species. However, strong variations do exist. Vanilla tahitiensis, commonly referred to as “Tahitian Vanilla”, typically has a more floral aroma and flavor. Tahitian vanilla beans also contain less vanillin content (the active ingredient responsible for flavor) and are often used in perfumes. Tahitian vanilla beans also tend to be wide and flat.
For many people, vanilla exists solely in the form of vanilla extract. So what exactly is the best type of vanilla extract? The answer has two important parts. First, is quality. There is a huge variation in the way that vanilla extract is produced. Temperature, grade of vanilla bean used, a number of vanilla beans used, grade of alcohol, type of alcohol, length of extraction and temperature of extraction all play a role in maximizing the flavor of vanilla extract. Producing a premium vanilla extract is a true science. Second, is the type of vanilla bean used? Each type of vanilla bean has a unique flavor: Mexican Vanilla is bold and dark with tones of smoke. Madagascar Vanilla is rich and creamy. I happen to prefer a blend of Bourbon and Tahitian vanilla.
In short, you can’t really go wrong when choosing a vanilla. If you can’t really taste the difference and are happy with the dollar store imitation stuff, great. If you have affordable access to the beans in the whole form, then use that. If you want to indulge in an artisanal organic vanilla extract handcrafted by a woman wearing a tie-dyed headband who goes by the name “Willow,” then…well, actually it would probably be amazing.
Tyler Morrison writes about food in Billings, Montana.
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PNS - Wednesday, May 2, 2018 - Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein declares the Department of Justice will not be “extorted.” Also on our nationwide rundown: Nevada’s Supreme Court to weigh-in on sanctuary cities; and Iowans reminded about new voter ID rules for the June primary.
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Tuesday, May 1, 2018 - President Trump shelves a decision on international steel tariffs. Other stories on today’s rundown include May Day marches celebrate workers rights, and the Bureau of Land Management accused of breaking the law with oil and gas leases.
Big Sky Connection
May 1, 2018
HELENA, Montana - Conservation groups say the U.S. Bureau of Land Management broke the law when it approved eight large oil and gas lease sales in Wyoming, Idaho, Montana, Nevada and Utah, and filed suit yesterday in federal court.
The sales came after the agency rolled back protections for greater sage-grouse habitat and cut opportunities for the public to have a say in how public lands are managed.
Laird Lucas, with the group, Advocates for the West and lead attorney on the case, says so far under the Trump administration he's only seen the pendulum swinging toward energy development without regard for wildlife.
"We're trying to get the pendulum to go back because that's what the laws say, that you have to have a balance there," he says. "And this administration is not acting in accordance with the law. We need to have balance in how public lands are managed."
After a decade of work by federal, state and local leaders along with ranchers, energy companies and other stakeholders, a comprehensive land-use plan was put in place to keep sage grouse off the endangered species list. Populations of the iconic birds have declined by as much as 95 percent from historic levels.
Some industry groups argue the plan overestimated the impacts from energy production, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has pushed to remove restrictions for development on public lands in order to achieve energy dominance.
Lucas says there are plenty of places on public or private lands to drill for oil and gas without encroaching on habitat that the sage grouse and more than 350 other species depend on.
"There are millions of acres of federal leases that are held by oil and gas companies that are not being developed," he notes. "Awarding more leases now does not make sense, particularly where it threatens really sensitive wildlife habitats."
In the 1970s, Congress adopted laws for how public lands should be managed by the BLM, requiring the agency to use the best available science and allow the public to play a meaningful role in planning and land-use decisions.
Lucas says he hopes the federal judge in the Boise U.S. District Court will agree that the BLM has violated what he calls bedrock environmental laws.
April 30, 2018
Bozeman, MT – Residents in Gallatin County are encouraged to develop a plan on how they will protect their property in case they are affected by spring flooding. As Gallatin County approaches our usual spring flood season, several contributing factors exist that could lead to flooding affecting homes and property. As Patrick Lonergan, Gallatin County Emergency Manager explains, “We won’t know for sure if we will be adversely affected by flooding beforehand, however we have several contributing factors primed to support extensive flooding. We have had significant moisture in the valley floors that is now melted, but the soil in many places appears to be saturated with limited capacity to absorb more water. This means most new water will flow across the surface of the ground seeking someplace to go. Additionally, we have a large amount of water contained in the mountain snowpack that we saw the first sign of melting last week. These are both contributing factors that can lead to flooding that affects our community.”
The part that is unknown is how quickly the mountain snowpack will melt. The Gallatin Valley typically sees flood impacts when we get a quick temperature change to very hot weather that also keep the night time mountain temperatures above freezing allowing the snowpack to melt continuously. When this is compounded with significant rainfall like we often see in late spring, the mountain snow pack often overwhelms the small tributaries carrying the water to the main stem rivers and we see flooding. “The question that we don’t know is how quickly the mountain snow pack will melt, and unfortunately we won’t know that until shortly before those weather patterns occur. However we know the risk factors exists and now is a good time for people to prepare,” according to Patrick Lonergan.
People in areas near any sort of waterway are encouraged to spend a little time and develop a plan on how they will protect their property should they be affected by flooding. Waiting until you see flooding begin will almost certainly put you behind the curve in protecting yourselves. The difference between high water that you’re watching and a flooding situation that is affecting you is a very fine line which often changes very quickly with the highest water levels occurring in the middle of the night.
Unfortunately people are often caught off guard when their property seems fine one moment and they return home, or get up in the morning, and discover their property is flooded. Officials highly encourage people around waterways to closely keep a watch during high waters and monitor the current weather. Everyone is highly encouraged to register in the Community Notification System so officials can provide geographic warnings when we see a wide spread issue developing. A couple minutes spent registering the addresses you care about and how you want to be alerted will help emergency officials ensure they can provide timely warnings directly to those who are affected. Learn more and register at https://www.readygallatin.com/
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