Mexican vanilla is known for its rich, complex flavor that makes it a prized ingredient for bakers around the world. But is it truly better for baking compared to vanilla from other regions? Let’s take a closer look at what makes Mexican vanilla special and whether it’s worth the higher cost for your baked goods.
What is Mexican Vanilla?
Mexican vanilla comes from orchids of the species Vanilla planifolia that are grown in the tropical climate of Veracruz, Mexico. This humid, rainy environment allows the vanilla orchid vines to thrive and produce long, slender vanilla pods full of tiny vanilla beans.
The vanilla beans from Mexico are often described as more flavorful and aromatic compared to vanilla from other origins. This is due to several factors:
- Climate – The hot, humid climate in Mexico causes the vanilla beans to develop slowly, concentrating the flavor.
- Curing Process – Mexican vanilla beans are traditionally cured through a labor-intensive process that brings out the flavor.
- Varietals – There are specific varieties of the vanilla orchid that thrive in Mexico, producing beans with a distinctive flavor profile.
The extra effort put into growing and curing Mexican vanilla results in a more complex, nuanced flavor that many bakers and chefs find superior.
How Does Mexican Vanilla Taste?
Mexican vanilla is characterized by a robust, sweet, creamy vanilla flavor with woody, spicy notes. The flavor often described as:
- Sweet and rich – It has a strong vanilla flavor with a smooth, almost butter-like sweetness.
- Complex and nuanced – Tasting notes of caramel, nuts, citrus, tobacco and earthiness are often detected.
- Mild spice – Subtle hints of cinnamon, clove, anise or pepper add warmth.
- Woodsy – An earthy, rummy, whiskey-like undertone from the curing process.
In comparison to vanilla from other origins like Madagascar, Tahiti or Indonesia, Mexican vanilla stands out for its sweet, rounded flavor with layers of woody spice. The complexity of the flavor develops beautifully in baked goods.
Is Mexican Vanilla Better for Baking?
For baking applications like cookies, cakes, puddings and custards, Mexican vanilla is often regarded as superior to vanilla from other regions. Here’s why:
It has a robust vanilla flavor
The rich, concentrated vanilla notes make Mexican vanilla ideal for recipes where vanilla takes center stage. Using high quality Mexican vanilla allows the flavor to shine through baked goods.
The flavor balances well with other ingredients
While bold in vanilla flavor, Mexican vanilla integrates seamlessly into recipes, complementing flavors like chocolate, cinnamon, fruit or nuts. The vanilla flavor enhances other ingredients without overpowering them.
It provides depth and complexity
Beyond pure sweetness, Mexican vanilla brings out subtle spice notes that give baked treats a complex flavor profile. This makes simple recipes like vanilla cookies or cupcakes taste extra special.
It improves texture
Experienced bakers know that the flavor of vanilla also impacts the texture of baked goods. The aromatic compounds in Mexican vanilla seem to enhance moistness and structural integrity, resulting in treats that stay fresher longer.
What Do the Experts Say?
Professional bakers and pastry chefs often recommend using high quality vanilla from Mexico for baked desserts and sweets. According to experts:
- The flavor of Mexican vanilla luminates baked goods in ways that lower-grade vanilla cannot match.
- It adds moisture, richness and suppleness to cookies, cakes and muffins.
- The depth of flavor and aroma makes recipes shine compared to using vanilla extract.
- The complex, spicy undertones complement chocolate, fruit, coffee and nut flavors.
- It enhances the texture and structural integrity of baked goods.
For the best results in recipes where vanilla takes center stage, many baking experts recommend seeking out real Mexican vanilla beans or paste whenever possible.
How Do You Use Mexican Vanilla in Baking?
When baking with Mexican vanilla, you can use:
Whole Mexican vanilla beans provide the truest and most nuanced flavor. You can split open the bean and scrape out the seeds, or put the whole pod in a mixture to infuse flavor. Beans work especially well in custards, puddings, creams and ice cream.
Vanilla Bean Paste
This paste is made by extracting flavor from vanilla beans in a syrup base. The tiny seeds provide flecks of visual interest. Paste dissolves easily into batters and frostings.
Make sure to use a vanilla extract that’s specifically made with Mexican vanilla beans. The alcohol-based extract has a concentrated flavor. It’s more affordable than beans or paste.
Ground Vanilla Powder
This very fine powder is made from pure vanilla beans. It mixes seamlessly into dry ingredients. Powder can provide a more even distribution of flavor than extract alone.
Always start with a small amount of vanilla and adjust to your taste preferences. Keep in mind that the flavor will deepen as baked goods cool and set.
Top Recipes Using Mexican Vanilla
Here are some delicious ways that chefs, bakers and food bloggers use Mexican vanilla to make recipes extra special:
Mexican Vanilla Cupcakes
Dark, moist chocolate cupcakes are iced with fluffy vanilla buttercream made silky with Mexican vanilla bean paste. The vanilla perfectly balances the chocolate.
Spiced Mexican Vanilla Cake
This moist, tender spice cake has hints of cinnamon and clove, with Mexican vanilla extract added to the batter and vanilla bean seeds in the frosting.
Mexican Vanilla French Macarons
In the French almond meringue cookies, ground Mexican vanilla powder is folded into the batter for irresistible, aromatic flavor.
Mexican Vanilla Panna Cotta
The warm, woody notes of Mexican vanilla infuse the velvety smooth custard base of this chilled Italian dessert.
Mexican Vanilla Ice Cream
Made with cream, milk, egg yolks and Mexican vanilla paste, this custard-style ice cream is ultra creamy with pure, robust vanilla flavor.
Mexican Vanilla Bean Blondies
These chewy, fudgy bar cookies are swirled with a whole Mexican vanilla bean, providing flavor flecks throughout each bite.
Mexican Vanilla & Raspberry Galette
Flaky pie dough is filled with raspberry jam and fresh berries, then brushed with Mexican vanilla sugar for a free-form rustic tart.
Mexican Vanilla Poached Pears
Pears poached in Mexican vanilla bean-infused wine are reduced into an elegant, aromatic syrup for dessert.
Mexican Vanilla Whipped Shortbread
Buttery Mexican vanilla bean-flecked shortbread is whipped with cream into a decadent sandwich cookie filling.
Mexican Vanilla & Orange Cookies
A pinch of Mexican vanilla powder enhances the citrus flavor in these glazed orange pistachio thumbprint cookies.
Is Mexican Vanilla Worth the Price for Baking?
Due to the labor-intensive farming and curing process, Mexican vanilla beans and extract cost significantly more than standard vanilla. While expensive, most bakers find the superior depth of flavor and aroma well worth the investment for special recipes.
A little goes a long way since Mexican vanilla has such a concentrated flavor. Even a single bean can provide enough seeds to flavor an entire batch of cookies or cake. Good quality Mexican vanilla lasts for years when stored properly in an airtight container in a cool, dark place.
For everyday baking, high quality Mexican vanilla extract is a cost-effective way to take advantage of the incredible flavor. Serious bakers suggest keeping both extract and beans in your kitchen to pull out for your finest creations.
With its robust, sweet and complex flavor profile, Mexican vanilla truly elevates baked goods to new heights of flavor and enjoyment. The region’s unique climate and production methods yield vanilla beans that bake up intensely aromatic, beautifully moist and textured treats.
Though more expensive than standard vanilla, a little high quality Mexican vanilla goes a long way in providing unmatched flavor and aroma. For memorable, distinctive results in your most special recipes, Mexican vanilla is worth the splurge for home bakers.