If some exquisite little goddess of gluttony were to exist, her name would surely be Vanilla, and she would be a delicate, slim, dark creature in a dress sparkling with tiny perfumed crystals.
- M. Toussaint-Samat, History of Food(1987)
Ah, yes, vanilla in Germany. You can run around town all day looking for liquid vanilla extract, but it’s not going to do you any good. You just aren’t going to find it. Instead, you’ll find convenient little packages of Vanillinzucker, most widely available in the Dr. Oetker brand pictured on the right. (Dr. Oetker has been compared to the U.S.’s Betty Crocker, but he really existed.)
So, what is vanilla suger? Pretty much what it sounds like (well….keep reading). If you were to make it at home, you’d take one or two vanilla pods, chop them up, and stir them into a jar full of granulated or confectioner’s sugar. Seal the jar, wait a week for the vanilla to infuse itself in the sugar, and – voilà – you have a supply of vanilla sugar that should keep fresh in a dry, cool space for a few years.
USE & CONVERSION: Obvious next question: how am I supposed to use this? Well, opinions vary widely on this. In a perhaps overly extensive Internet search, I was able to determine that people have recommended one packet of Vanillazucker as a substitiute for ½ to 2 tsp. of vanilla extract. Even Dr. Oetker’s Web site states that one packet is a substitute for 1 to 2 tsp. That doesn’t really help me a lot. I haven’t spent a lot of time baking, but I have screwed up enough things to believe, as Marco Pierre White professes, that baking is a “culinary science” in which “[a] precise measurement of that ingredient mixed with a certain amount of that ingredient produces this result.” Some might bicker that vanilla is just for flavor and not necessary for the baking process, but I need security when I don my baking apron.
Sadly, though, that security is not to be found. My suggestion, then, is to go one-for-one (Vanillezucker packet 1:1 tsp. vanilla extract), not get frustrated if it doesn’t turn out right the first time, keep notes, and adjust to taste. A pain, I know, but there you go…
REAL VANILLA or…WOOD PULP? Oh, but the plot thickens. So, if you live in Germany, you’ll see that there are two types of Dr. Oetker’s vanilla packs. One is called “Vanillezucker” and the other is “Bourbon Vanillezucker.” I wrote to the folks at Dr. Oetker Deutschland to ask them what was in the different packages and how their uses should differ. Amazingly enough (kudos to their PR department!), they wrote me back in two days’ time:
Dear Mr. Ward:
Thank you for your email of July 20th which was forwarded from our head
The percentages of the ingredients are proprietary and confidential;
therefore we cannot give out this information.
As for uses, they both can be used for the same purpose: flavouring
beverages, desserts, and baked goods.
Natural vanilla flavouring is very expensive. It consists of about 50%
vanillin, as well as other flavouring substances. Vanillin is the major
flavour contributor, so a synthetic form can be used to provide a vanilla
note at a reduced cost over natural vanilla. Natural vanilla has a more
delicate flavour, and does not have as strong a flavour impact as pure
Reading this, I was a bit confused. And that’s when I went to my trusted pall, The New Food Lover’s Tiptionary, and looked up “vanilla.” The pertinent part:
“Natural vanillin is a substance intrinsic to the vanilla bean, whereas artificial vanillin is made from wood-pulp by-products…The words ‘vanilla flavouring’ means that a bled of pure and imitation vanillas was used, whereas ‘artificially flavored’ tells you it’s entirely imitation.”
If you take this (and you can combine the concepts of natural and flavouring from above), what you learn is that, in Germany, this is what you get if you shop at the Extra supermarket around the block from me (in 9g/0.32oz packettes):
Vanillezucker = wood-pulp by-product = €0.59 for 5
Bourbon Vanillezucker = 50% vanilla/50% wood-pulp by-product = €0.99 for 3
Stop. Don’t grab your calculator. I already did the math. The real stuff is three times as expensive. But. These are peanuts. Try the (half) real stuff and see if you like it better. And for full real stuff, keep reading.
Dr. Oetker in America –
Believe it or not, you can find Dr. Oetker vanilla packets in America. And, who knows, you might choose to use them if you have a German recipe or you can’t have alcohol from the vanilla extract or who knows what other reason. You can actually find them in specialty stores and you can order them online. But they have different names. In Canada and the USA (as I learned from another email exchange), this is the conversion:
Vanillezucker = Vanilla Sugar (ingr.: Sugar, artificial flavor)
Bourbon Vanillezucker = Natural Vanilla Sugar (Ingr.: Sugar, natural flavor)
Free-basing your vanilla bio-style – If you ever want to forget about alcohol-ly extract or sweet vanilla sugar, you can always walk up to your local bio or specialty store and get either real test-tube vanilla beans or vanilla powder (“gemahlen” or “Pulver”). At least in Berlin, these products are much more available than in the places in America I’ve looked. They are a bit pricier than their fully- or half- fake cousins and a bit harder to find, but as close to the source as possible. -
Here’s a couple useful conversions from here:
1 vanilla bean = ca. 1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 (2-inch) length = ca. 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1 tsp. vanilla powder = ca. 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
For ordering vanilla products in Germany, DeliciousDays recommends Gewürzhandel Bernhard Ulrich.
“Essentially Vanilla” – Oh, and by the way, you might also see another Dr. Oetker product in North America that has two small vials of “Vanilla Essence.” Having only artificial flavor, this is not to be confused with “pure vanilla essence,” which is free-based (distilled and concentrated) vanilla. In Germany, as far as I can tell, the artificial product in vials is called Butter-Vanille Vanille Aroma. Sounds icky to me.
Hope this has been helpful. Happy baking!