Yes, you can buy Mexican vanilla in the United States. Mexican vanilla is becoming increasingly popular and available due to its unique flavor profile and artisanal production methods.
Where can I buy Mexican vanilla in the US?
There are several places where you can purchase authentic Mexican vanilla in the US:
- Specialty grocery stores – Stores like Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Sprouts often carry Mexican vanilla in the baking aisle or with other spices.
- Online retailers – Many online stores sell Mexican vanilla, such as Amazon, Beanilla, and MexGrocer. These allow you to buy in bulk or sample sizes.
- Farmer’s markets – During vanilla season, farmers markets in border states like California and Texas may have Mexican vanilla from small regional farms.
- Mercados – Mexican/Latin American grocery stores and mercados are likely sources of Mexican vanilla products.
- Directly from distributors – Some vanilla distributors and vanilla bean companies sell Mexican vanilla online or to retailers.
What makes Mexican vanilla unique?
There are a few key things that distinguish Mexican vanilla from vanilla from other regions:
- Flavor profile – Mexican vanilla has distinctive spicy, woody, and fruity notes. It tastes slightly different from tropical vanilla from Indonesia/Madagascar.
- Production – Mexican vanilla uses hand-pollination and slower curing, creating a more complex flavor. Beans are aged to bring out unique flavors.
- Species – Most Mexican vanilla comes from the Vanilla planifolia species grown in Veracruz. This is the same species as Madagascar vanilla.
- Quality – High-quality Mexican vanilla often exceeds FDA standards for moisture, vanillin content, and bean length.
- Sustainability – Many Mexican vanilla farms use sustainable, fair trade practices supporting rural farmers.
These traditional production methods result in a premium gourmet vanilla with a unique terroir.
What are the flavors and aromas of Mexican vanilla?
Mexican vanilla stands out for its complex array of flavors and aromas. Some of its notable qualities include:
- Woodsy, earthy tones
- Spicy and slightly peppery
- Smoky and tobacco-like
- Notes of prunes, raisins, rum, and brandy
- Hints of nutty, chocolaty, and coffee aromas
- Low, deep vanilla base note
- Sweet, floral undertones
The spicy, smoky flavors pair especially well with chocolate, coffee, tropical fruits, and savory applications. The vanilla has enough sweetness and vanilla essence to enhance desserts too.
What grade/quality of Mexican vanilla is best?
Several classifications indicate higher quality Mexican vanilla beans:
- Gourmet – The highest grade with complex flavor, 30-35% vanillin content.
- Prime/Select – High quality, 15-20% vanillin, well-cured beans.
- Extract Grade – Good flavor for extracts, ice cream, perfumes.
- Gourmet A Grade – Very long, flexible, seed-filled beans.
- 16-22 cm beans – Longer beans indicate higher quality.
- 2-5% moisture – Drier beans have fuller flavor.
Ideally, look for Mexican vanilla labeled “gourmet” that specifies bean length, vanillin content, moisture level, and fair trade or sustainable certification.
What is vanilla production like in Mexico?
Most Mexican vanilla originates from the rural region of Papantla in Veracruz state. Here is an overview of Mexican vanilla farming and production:
- Papantla’s tropical climate and elevation is ideal for vanilla orchids.
- Farms are small-scale, family-run operations of 1-5 acres in size.
- Vanilla vines are grown under shade and climbed up tree branches or poles.
- Flowers are hand-pollinated to produce vanilla beans.
- Beans go through an 8-10 month slow curing process.
- Curing methods involve “killing green”, sun-drying, and sweating.
- This artisanal approach results in complex flavors.
- The vanilla is graded and aged for several months to develop aroma.
The careful hand-crafted methods support small farmers and result in a top-quality gourmet vanilla. Mexico produces less than 1% of global vanilla, making it a rare find.
What dishes and drinks pair well with Mexican vanilla?
Mexican vanilla pairs wonderfully with both sweet and savory dishes. Its complex flavor profile enhances but doesn’t overpower other ingredients. Use it in:
- Cakes, cookies, and pastries
- Ice cream, custards, flans
- Fruit desserts, poached pears
- Cream sauces, cr??me anglaise
- Coffee, hot chocolate
- Milkshakes, smoothies
- Banana bread, muffins, scones
- Caramel, fudge
- Rice pudding, chai tea
- Mole sauce, vinaigrettes
- Grilled vegetables, roasted chicken
- Pork, beef, lamb dishes
- BBQ sauces, dry rubs
The warm, spicy notes enhance chocolate, coffee, tropical fruits, berries, and citrus. It also complements caramel, coconut, honey, nuts, wine, and liquor. Substitute 1:1 for regular vanilla.
Are there any concerns when buying Mexican vanilla?
To ensure you get authentic, high-quality Mexican vanilla, watch out for:
- Added sugar/additives – Check for 100% pure vanilla with no added sugar or filler.
- Cheaper quality – Avoid beans shorter than 15cm or with over 15% moisture.
- Fake vanilla – Pure vanilla will say “vanilla planifolia” in ingredients.
- Old/stale beans – Inspect for very dry, brittle pods or no aroma.
- Unsustainable sources – Opt for fair trade/organic if possible.
Buying from reputable sellers and knowing what to look for minimizes these risks. Always check the ingredients list, moisture level, bean length, and smell before purchasing.
How can you tell if Mexican vanilla beans are still fresh?
Signs that vanilla beans are fresh and of good quality include:
- Supple, oily, and slightly moist pods – Not brittle or overly dry
- Aroma of vanilla when sniffed up close
- Visible vanilla seeds inside the pod
- Complex woody, spicy smell – Not just plain vanilla
- Dark brown to black color – Not faded or dull
- Glossy, plump appearance – Not shriveled
Store the beans in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Over time, the aroma will dull and the beans will dry out. Under the right storage conditions, they can last 1-2 years.
Does Mexican vanilla taste stronger than other varieties?
Not necessarily stronger per se, but Mexican vanilla does have a more complex, nuanced flavor profile. Key differences include:
- Higher vanillin content – 2-5% for Mexican vs. 1-2% for Madagascar/Tahitian.
- Smoky, spicy aromas compared to more floral/fruity notes.
- Slower curing intensifies flavors during processing.
- Aged for months to develop flavors rather than weeks.
- Woody, earthy base note vs. bright citrus base in other varieties.
The production process brings out unique flavor compounds. So while not sharply stronger, Mexican vanilla has layered, robust flavors compared to a more one-dimensional vanilla note.
Does Mexican vanilla go well with chocolate?
Absolutely! The flavor profile of Mexican vanilla pairs extremely well with chocolate. Here’s why they complement each other so nicely:
- The earthy, nutty undertones mirror cocoa and dark chocolate base notes.
- Fruity, spicy overtones balance and enhance chocolate’s slight bitterness.
- The vanillin content brings out chocolate’s creamy, sweet notes.
- Cocoa amplifies the smoky, woodsy aromas.
- Chocolate and vanilla are classic, timeless flavor partners.
Use Mexican vanilla in everything from chocolate chip cookies, cakes, fudge, and mousses to chocolate sauces, mochas, truffles, and ganache. It adds warmth and dimension that really makes the chocolate shine.
What dishes pair well with vanilla from Mexico?
Here are some of the best savory and sweet dishes to pair with Mexican vanilla:
- Mole sauces
- Meat marinades and rubs for beef, pork, chicken, etc.
- Bean, lentil, and vegetable stews
- Rice and savory oatmeal
- Salad dressings and vinaigrettes
- Grilled vegetables like squash, carrots, onions
- Roasted or grilled fruits like pineapple, peaches, plums
- Simmered tomatoes, tomato sauce
- Poached fish and seafood like salmon, cod, shrimp
- Cookies, cakes, muffins, scones
- Pies, tarts, crepes, pancakes, waffles
- Puddings, custards, mousses
- Ice cream, milkshakes, smoothies
- Poached or roasted fruits
- Cinnamon applesauce
- Coffee, espresso drinks
- Hot chocolate, chocolate milk
- Yogurt, chia pudding
- Banana bread, zucchini bread
The complex aromas of Mexican vanilla complement both sweet and savory dishes. Add it to enhance but not overwhelm the other flavors.
What are some tips for cooking with Mexican vanilla?
Here are some tips for getting the most flavor out of Mexican vanilla:
- Use whole beans – Scrape seeds into dish for fullest flavor.
- Add early – Infuse during cooking, not just at end.
- Simmer gently – Don’t boil aggressively to preserve aroma.
- Cut beans – Expose more surface area to release flavor.
- Store properly – Air-tight container in cool, dark area.
- Optimize fat & sugar – Carry and enhance vanilla notes.
- Pair well – Combine with chocolate, coffee, tropical fruits.
- Avoid overpowering – Let vanilla’s complexity shine.
Getting the most out of Mexican vanilla is about coaxing the greatest flavor nuance through storage, preparation, and ideal pairings.
Mexican vanilla offers a unique and exceptional gourmet flavor profile beyond typical vanilla. Produced in small batches using artisanal methods, its complex smoky, spicy aromas make it stand out. While Mexican vanilla can be hard to find, seeking it out rewards you with an incredible baking and cooking ingredient. With proper use and pairing, Mexican vanilla makes flavors pop and adds richness and depth to both sweet and savory dishes.