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Website: http://www.RodelleVanilla.com
Vanilla reviewed: Rodelle Pure Vanilla Extract.
Cost: Rodelle provided this sample for review.

When a representative of Rodelle Vanilla contacted the site, I was excited about the opportunity to compare professionally-made extract to homemade. Rodelle sent an 8 oz bottle of their standard-quality pure vanilla extract (they also make a gourmet-quality).

The first thing that I looked for was the origin of the beans used, but this isn’t listed on the bottle. Rodelle’s website says that they use a custom blend of beans “from the top growing regions throughout the world”, but not a lot of additional detail is provided. The vanilla comes from several different growing regions, and might even be a mix of planifolia and tahetensis beans. Update: according to Rodelle’s comment below, this is 100% Madagascar grown vanilla (planifolia).

This is single-fold extract that, unlike homemade extract, provides standardized doses. Rodelle uses a heat percolation extraction method. There is an intense debate in the vanilla world over the use of heat. Opinions are split between those who say that higher temperatures bring out flavors that aren’t possible with cold extraction methods, and those who claim that heat destroys the more delicate flavors or brings out undesirable ones.

It was a surprise to see sugar listed on the ingredients in a upscale-marketed vanilla like Rodelle. Rodelle mentions the sugar several times on their site as an example of the organic ingredients used in the extract. Sugar reduces the alcohol nose, and is an FDA-permitted additive for vanilla extract, but many gourmet manufacturers now choose to leave it out.

The extract is reddish-brown in color and has a light viscosity. The aroma is dark and rich, and more like a whole vanilla bean than many commercial extracts. My best guess, based on the aroma, would be that this is a mixture of Madagascar- and PNG-sourced beans. The sugar indeed cuts the sharp alcohol smell, but there is still a sense of it in the mouth when exhaling after smelling the aroma.

Three different tests help get a sense of the different qualities of this vanilla extract. In a sugar icing test, it has good richness and depth, with strong tobacco overtones and the flavor of real beans. Mixing it into warmed milk brings out custard overtones, and also enhances the rich flavors of the milk. In a practical use scenario — the oatmeal cookie test — the vanilla extract comes across as very sweet, with a light flavor.  This is an extract that I would use for everyday cooking, but I prefer something a little more robust to for use as a feature flavor in something like ice cream or crème brûlée.

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thebarrelsourceBruce Pyeatt left a comment suggesting oak casks as an aging vessel for vanilla extract. He suggests thebarrelsource.com as a source of new oak casks in various sizes.

I’m particularly fond of this one, a 1 liter oak cask for about $29.

I contacted thebarrelsource.com about using oak to age vanilla extract, essentially a 35% alcohol liqueur.

Richard at thebarrelsource.com writes:

The purpose of aging wine, spirits, or even Vanilla extract in an oak barrel is two fold, first to exctract tannins such as vanilla and other phenolics from the oak. Tannin is a French word meaning “crushed oak bark”. Tannins are of various compounds ,including tannic acid that occur naturally in the bark. Tannins are ployphenols,and form the second is called microoxidation, in which tannins, acids and other elements of the wine interact to slow and gradual exposure to oxygen through the grain of the wood. This process can take up to 6 months in large barrels but only three months in small oak barrels like the ones we manufacture. I believe aging in an oak barrel will “soften” and make more drinkable the vanilla extract.

Cheers,

Richard A. Weisberg

The Barrel Source

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My notes on barrels:

  • Some barrels are charred. The char imparts flavor in the contents as they age.
  • Charred barrels are for aging, not for storage, because the ‘oak’ will become overpowering.
  • A charred barrel can be used several times, but becomes mellow with use.
  • Barrels should only be used with a single liquid (eg only Merlot or only whiskey).
  • Barrels have to be soaked (in water) before use.
  • I saw several examples of uncharred barrels for sale on the web. These seem appropriate for long term storage.

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