Know Your Spices


True vanilla is only a very small supplier of the combined vanilla natural and artificial flavor industry.

Did you know that since the year 2000 extreme weather conditions have negatively affected vanilla production worldwide? And that this reduction in the annual world supply of 2000 tons of world vanilla production has combined with a new biotech flavor industry substitute to reduce the demand for true vanilla.

Typhoons have hit Madagascar, the #1 vanilla producing country, almost annually since 2000 and hurricanes have hit the vanilla producing area of Mexico (Vera Cruz) and the gulf coast. Typhoons and monsoons have also affected India, a relatively new player that was keen on picking up the slack left by Madagascar. Another new player Papua New Guinea (PNG) in the south Pacific was affected by draught conditions in 2007 which hindered flowering, pollination and production. One could assume that the lower supply would push the prices of vanilla upward, similar to what happened in 2003 and 2004. However the flavor industry in its “Holy Grail” quest to find an improved artificial vanilla was rewarded by the biotech industry with a fermented rice and caramelized sugar process that imitates true vanilla. Government regulatory agencies happily rewarded the biotech industry efforts with a deceptive natural flavor label WONF (With Other Natural Flavors) that the major food industry players were only delighted to then integrate into their packaging of their vanilla flavor products that previously included true vanilla.

This industry/regulatory agency agreement effectively reduced the normal demand for true vanilla below the supply equilibrium level. Industry and regulatory acquiescence combined with low quality vanilla entering the market caused prices to drop to below the farmer break even point. Farmers today are discouraged by low prices to produce vanilla beans and lately have been clearing their vanilla plantations to plant crops that generate more income.

When I started growing vanilla 22 years ago, the artificial proportion of the vanilla flavor industry was 90%, today the artificial percentage is 98%. Today only 2% of the vanilla flavor industry is supplied by truly natural vanilla beans. Traditional big food industry is only to willing to increase profits by substituting a WONF label (with other natural flavors) for natural vanilla beans. Consumers are mislead by the natural flavor label into thinking that they are consuming real vanilla bean products.

As a vanilla farmer and consumer I think that this new biotech fermented rice/caramelized sugar with a ferulic acid vanilla aroma, is a huge improvement over the traditional artificial vanilla flavor which is a by-product of industrial wood pulp waste (vanillin crystals). The biotech industry has successfully produced a less toxic artificial vanilla that should compete for the 90% artificial vanilla market segment. Instead the bioteched flavor is competing as a disguised natural flavor and reducing the incentives for farmers world wide to produce the truly unique and ancient natural vanilla. The biotech vanilla is competing for the natural vanilla segment because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has deregulated and watered down the requirements for true vanilla labeling, something similar to what we are witnessing in the finance sector.

Vanilla growers worldwide, the ITNF (International Tropical Farmers’ Network) and I are especially grateful to the chefs, professional and amateur, who recognize the qualitative differences between real and artificial vanilla. We now need to educate consumers about natural flavors and their culinary and traditional medicine uses.

We at Villa Vanilla are committed to continue producing quality spices for discerning and receptive consumers. Our efforts to produce and market fine vanilla products and our awareness of the subtleties of nature are directed to producing other fine flavors like Ceylon cinnamon, cocoa, pepper (nigrum), allspice.

Please visit our online spice shop to order vanilla, vanilla extract, true cinnamon and other spices.

Retail extract sizes 2 1/2, 4 & 8 ounces

Biodynamic and organic vanilla bean in centimeters (2.5 cm=1 inch)

There’s true cinnamon, and then there’s the one we buy at the store

Ask Martha
By Martha Stewart / Special to The Detroit News

Cinnamon, like many spices, has been prized since ancient times, not only for culinary purposes but also for medicinal uses, for holy oil and even for embalming. It was once considered more valuable than precious metals. During the time of the Roman Empire, cinnamon was in such demand that its price rose to 15 times its weight in silver.
In the centuries since then, it has become much more affordable, and today the warm, woody spice is nearly as fundamental in our kitchens as salt and pepper. But chances are, there is still a lot you don’t know about cinnamon.

You might be surprised to learn that the reddish, woody, aromatic spice you sprinkle on toast and use to flavor dishes such as applesauce and pumpkin pie most likely isn’t true cinnamon at all. In the United States, most products sold as cinnamon are actually cassia.
True cinnamon and cassia are cousins; both are made of the dried bark of species of Cinnamomum evergreen trees. Cassia originated in the country now called Myanmar. There are three distinct types available today: Indonesian cassia — the familiar kind mass-produced as cinnamon for the North American market; Chinese cassia — a rarer version that is both sweeter and more peppery and is ideal for baked goods; and Vietnamese cassia — a type only recently available in North America, with an intense flavor and aroma (only about two-thirds the amount of cinnamon called for in recipes is necessary with this variety).
All cassia is a dark, reddish brown and has a stronger, somewhat harsher flavor than its cousin, true, or Ceylon, cinnamon. True cinnamon originated from Sri Lanka. It has a paler tan color, a softer, more crumbly texture and a more delicate flavor than cassia. It also contains a chemical compound called eugenol, the same one that gives cloves their distinctive aroma, which makes it more fragrant.

Buying and storing
True cinnamon can be difficult to find in North America today; like the less common varieties of cassia, it is typically available only through mail-order spice catalogues and in specialty food stores. Expect to pay up to four times the price of the common cinnamon you buy in your local grocery store.
All cinnamons are sold in quill and powder form, and there are benefits to each. The quills (often called cinnamon sticks), which are taken from upper branches and small shoots of trees, are rather subtle in flavor. They are useful for steeping in liquids, such as mulled cider. Ground powders are made from quills and featherlings (small, broken pieces of bark) as well as from chunks of bark from the lower, older parts of the tree. They therefore have a more intense flavor and are better suited to baking.
As with most spices, cinnamon should be kept in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Discard the spice after a year — it will lose potency with time.

Cooking with cinnamon
Most American cooks are well-versed in using cinnamon for sweets, but in other parts of the world, the flavoring is considered essential for savory preparations as well. In Indian cuisine, cinnamon is included in the spice mixture garam masala, as well as in most curry powders. Chinese five-spice powder calls for cinnamon, as do many Middle Eastern and North African meat dishes. Lamb, in particular, benefits from the warm, distinctive flavor of cinnamon. In Mexico, true cinnamon, which is called “canela,” is used for everything from mole sauces to hot chocolate.
Let these culinary traditions inspire you to experiment with cinnamon in unexpected dishes. You might be delighted with the results. Just take care to start out judiciously, since cinnamon can become overpowering in too great a quantity.
Here is a recipe to get you started:

Mexican Hot Chocolate
Mexican chocolate is flavored with Ceylon cinnamon, almonds and vanilla. It is available in Mexican markets and some supermarkets.
1 quart milk
2 3-inch cinnamon sticks
10 ounces Ibarra or other Mexican chocolate, finely chopped
Whipped cream, for serving
Pinch of ground cinnamon, for serving
Place the milk and the cinnamon sticks in a heavy medium saucepan. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat and add chocolate. Let the mixture stand until the chocolate melts, about 3 minutes. Whisk until combined.
Serve immediately, topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a pinch of ground cinnamon. Makes 6-8 servings.

Cinnamon sticks in storage

Cassia could be Toxic –

How do you identify real Cinnamon from Cassia

A rough distinction can be made between two types of cinnamon. Ceylon cinnamon only contains low levels of coumarin which are safe from the Institute’s risk assessment perspective. By contrast, cassia cinnamon contains high levels of coumarin and large amounts of this cinnamon should not, therefore, be eaten.


Real Cinnamon from Ceylon
Colour Dark brown Light brown
Outer appearance Thick and hard Thin and soft
Inner filling Hollow tube Filled like a cigar
Aroma Harsh Delicate
Taste Flat Sweet
Grown in China, Vietnam, Indonesia Ceylon (Sri Lanka)
Other names Saigon Cinnamon Real or Sweet Cinnamon
Coumarin 5% 0.004%
Species Cinnamomum Cassia Cinnamomum Zeylanicum (Latin name for Ceylon)

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