Vanilla delivers characteristic and complex flavor notes to hundreds of types of food. With fruit- and dairy-based products, it enhances flavor by cutting acid notes, bringing out creamy notes and rounding out flavor systems.

Finding the right vanilla flavor for a particular product is not simple, however. “There are so many different nuances among the different growing areas that we have hundreds of combinations of vanilla,” says Dan Fox, director of sales, Nielsen-Massey Vanillas Inc., Waukegan, Ill. The company blends vanilla extracts made from vanilla beans from the four major sources: Madagascar, Indonesia, Tahiti and Mexico.

Factors, such as the type of fruit, butterfat content and cooking time, determine which vanilla or blend is appropriate. Bourbon vanilla mellows the acid notes of fruits like cranberry and pineapple used in yogurt, chutney, relishes and compotes. It rounds out the flavor of fruits like apple, mango, raisin and peach.

“Tahitian vanilla, with its fruity, floral notes, complements the flavor of cherry very well and enhances strawberry flavor,” Fox says. “Straight Tahitian or a combination of Bourbon and Tahitian is often selected.”

In yogurt or ice cream, vanilla selection also “coordinates” with the butterfat. Bourbon vanilla brings out the creamy notes of the dairy base. Vanilla notes are even more prominent in a lowfat base and can help cut the acidity of the base. In a product containing fruits or berries, Bourbon vanilla brings out sweetness.

If a product is to be heated, Indonesian vanilla may be the choice. Vanilla flavor depends on more than 250 volatiles. When the flavor is heated, some of them may evaporate. Indonesian vanilla, due to the way it is cured, has some strong notes that withstand cooking temperatures.

Due to its method of processing the vanilla beans, Nielsen-Massey vanillas retain many of the volatile flavor compounds of the vanilla bean. During processing, an alcohol and water solution flows over the beans in a cold extraction process that takes 3-5 weeks instead of several days. As a result, flavor impact is great in proportion to usage levels. Typical usage levels are 0.3%-3%, depending on the application, says Fox.

The company makes only pure vanilla products. Vanilla extracts are single fold up to four fold. Industrial users usually choose two- to four-fold because they are easier to use in large batching requirements. In applications where color is a concern, such as in pure white icing, food processors can use vanilla powder, which contains no sugar or alcohol and is on a maltodextrin carrier. The company also sells whole vanilla beans for gourmet food applications.

Recently, the ingredient manufacturer has introduced 100% Organic Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla, made from organically certified ingredients.

Nielsen-Massey Vanillas Inc.
The Four Major Growing Regions

  • Bourbon Vanilla—Made from vanilla beans grown on the islands of Madagascar, Comoro, Seychelles and Reunion. Madagascar vanilla is known for its full, rich, creamy flavor and is the gold standard in vanillas. The Bourbon islands supply most of the world’s vanilla beans.
  • Mexican Vanilla—Mexico is the country of origin for the Vanilla Planifolia plant, which is also grown in the Bourbon islands and Indonesia. Although bean supplies are small, the vanilla is known for a mild, smooth flavor.
  • Indonesian Vanilla—Due to different methods of harvesting and curing the beans, the vanilla may have slightly sharp, woody notes or smoky tones.
  • Tahitian Vanilla—Beans come from the Vanilla Tahitensis plant, which produces different flavors from the Vanilla Planifolia plant. Vanilla has an aromatic musky flavor with a hint of heliotropin.