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Whist saffron has long been regarded as the most expensive spice in the world it would seem that vanilla in its fresh pod form could well steal that crown. Madagascan vanilla pods have rocketed in price with only the most affluent of restaurants now using them. I remember when a vanilla pod garnish on a dessert was almost a given in many restaurants, how times change!

Vanilla Pod

Vanilla comes from an orchid plant and the seed cases are cured and dried with the minute seeds still intact. To use, take a sharp knife and cut an incision into the pod to reveal the seeds. Carefully scrape the seeds away from the flesh, a little will go a long way and doubtless you will still have the cost of them at the back of your mind.

Placing a couple of pods into a pot of sugar reap many rewards, the sugar level can be topped up to ensure a continuing supply for up to twelve months. The pods can be made more economical; when flavouring a milk or cream the pods can be removed, washed and dried and used again.

Vanilla has its most obvious uses in desserts, especially in custards and ice creams but, following an inspirational meal at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Paris many years ago I ate an excellent sea bass with an exceptionally delicate fish veloute flavoured with vanilla and that prompted me to pair it with shellfish and other seafood.

Content and picture Miles Collins