Sunday, March 15, 2009

Where's the Corn in Vanilla?

So you've gone corn free. Ditched the cornstarch laden powdered sugar, the cornstarch laced baking powder, replaced your spices (ever used the same spoon to scoop out baking powder and cinnamon? Thought so.) and of course, cleansed the cupboard from those corny store-bought goodies.

Now, it's time to bake. You've got your corn free butter, free range eggs, and pure cane (or beet) sugar. You reach for the trusty bottle of vanilla extract...There's no corn in there, at least, right?

Think again. Virtually all store bought bottles of vanilla extract are extracted in none other than your basic, run of the mill corn based alcohol. The alcohol brings out the most in that aromatic vanilla bean, and makes it keep longer, too. Coming from corn based alcohol makes it gluten free (as well as using up more of that excess gold crop we subsidize here in America)

Many also are sweetened lightly with corn syrup. Yes, really. Read the ingredients next time you're shopping, and then set the bottle gently back on the shelf with a sigh. This means that even if you are okay with small exposures to corn based alcohol, you should still skip ingredient lists that read simply "vanilla". Don't forget that vanilla, as a flavoring in store bought goods, can also be found as a powder...and that is very likely to contain maltodextrin or corn starch.

Don't panic! All is not lost. At Passover time, there are often kosher-for-Passover vanilla extracts that are safe for us uncornies as well. (Those who keep kosher for religious reasons appreciate it when we actually place an order at the grocer for our needs, rather than simply clearing the shelfs, so keep that in mind if you plan to stock up. Most store managers will be more than happy to help you, and some will even offer a discount on bulk purchases.)

If kosher passover is not an option for you, purchase a small bottle of potato vodka or Circo grape vodka. Both are corn free, derived from corn free sources.

Place a plain old vanilla bean into the bottle and leave in a dark area for a few months. The vanilla flavor will grow stronger the longer it sits.

Alternatively, you could actually use the vanilla bean or simply steep your sugar in it for a more delicate flavor.

Vanilla beans are expensive, and if you just don't want to make the added expenditure or you don't have time to wait, using brown sugar (pure cane or beet) and skipping the vanilla will still produce a delicious dessert product. Adding chocolate chips never hurts long as they're corn free, that is.


purple_kangaroo said...

Great series of posts, Violets! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I confirmed with the Kroger Grocery Store main office that their colorless artificial vanilla is corn-free.

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