The Hippo


May 28, 2020








Varied Vanilla
Different approaches to the classic flavor

By Angie Sykeny

 It’s often considered the most basic flavor, but there’s more to vanilla ice cream than you might think. Between the different methods of making it, combinations of ingredients and types of vanilla used, vanilla ice cream at one shop may taste very different from vanilla ice cream at another. 

“Most people consider vanilla very boring, but sometimes it can be the best choice on the menu,” said Roni Vetter, owner and ice cream maker at Jake’s Old Fashioned Ice Cream and Bakery in  Nashua. 
Vetter says there are two main styles of vanilla ice cream: Philadelphia style and French vanilla. 
Philadelphia style vanilla ice cream is made with cream, milk, sugar and vanilla extract or vanilla sugar. 
“It creates that good, basic flavor,” Vetter said. “Most kids like it, it’s great for scoop shops that are using it for things like frappes and sundaes, and it’s great for people who have an egg allergy, because there are no eggs in it.” 
French vanilla ice cream contains an egg or egg product base, which is cooked custard-style with the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla extract, sugar or beans. 
“Some people swear by the French vanilla,” Vetter said. “They’re convinced that it’s a better ice cream because the egg gives it that yellowish or off-white color, and it makes it a little richer with that heavier texture. There’s a little more fat coating to the mouthfeel of it.” 
Once the beans get hot enough to release the vanilla flavor, they’re scraped out of the pot, but often leave the tiny black specks in what’s known as vanilla bean ice cream. 
Rick Wolstencroft, ice cream maker at Blake’s Creamery in Manchester, said Philadelphia style vanilla ice cream can also be made into a vanilla bean ice cream simply by sprinkling in ground up vanilla bean casings. 
“It changes the texture and it enhances the appearance,” he said, “and it does add some flavor. You actually get some of the flavor from the bean itself.” 
Rich Peyser, manager at Annabelle’s Natural Ice Cream in Portsmouth, said the amount of air in the ice cream also plays a part in the texture. 
“The more air, the lighter and fluffier the ice cream,” he said. “The egg yolk [in French vanilla] already makes it a little richer and denser, and our ice cream is made with only 40 percent air, so you can’t just lick it; you literally have to chew it.” 
A vanilla ice cream can taste different depending on the type of vanilla used. The three most widely used types, Vetter said, are Mexican, Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla. 
Mexican vanilla tends to be lighter and sweeter, while Tahitian vanilla has a deeper richness and roasted flavor and Madagascar has a bit of acidity similar to chocolate. 
When it comes to vanilla, much of the flavor actually comes from its aroma. 
“It sounds weird, but the smell has a lot to do with the flavors that you taste,” 
Vetter said, “and the aromas [of the different types of vanilla] are each very different.” 
Another factor that can change the taste of a vanilla ice cream is the ratio of ingredients. Each ice cream maker uses a particular ratio to achieve their desired flavor and texture. Too much of any one ingredient can ruin the ice cream. For example, high amounts of cream can result in too much fat content, making the ice cream taste like “frozen butter,” Vetter said. High amounts of sugar can detract from the natural flavor of the vanilla. 
“You want to be able to actually taste the product — the milk and cream and type of vanilla that’s in it,” she said. “If there’s too much sugar, the sugar is all you can taste.” 
Delicious as it may be, ice cream with candy pieces, chunks of cookie or brownie or other add-ins can make it difficult to truly taste the ice cream itself. If you’re an ice cream lover and really want to gauge the quality of a homemade ice cream, a simple sweet cream or vanilla flavor is the best flavor to order. 
“I say, always taste the place’s vanilla ice cream first, because it’s the base of so many other flavors, and if it has a really good vanilla, then you know the rest of the flavors will be good too,” Peyser said. 
Its simplicity also makes it an ideal accompaniment for birthday cake, fruit pies and other desserts. 
“Because it’s so neutral and crisp and refreshing, it enhances the flavors of so many desserts,” Wolstencroft said. “You wouldn’t put a chocolate ice cream on apple pie.” 

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