Fancy vanilla

SN&R Illustration By Mark Stivers

Sure, alcohol is great for drinking, but it has other uses, too—notably, carrying flavors like vanilla and other extracts. Recently, I was getting a coffee when I spotted a notice regarding Mexican vanilla extract for sale at a Web site,, run by Robert Grossman. Grossman, a local, imports the vanilla, Gaya Vai-Mex, from Veracruz (vanilla is native to Mexico and Central America). The vanilla is 35-percent alcohol (a mandatory level for extracts), so if you’re hard up, you could knock some back, but it’s much better used in desserts where its sweet, floral flavor will shine. Grossman offered me a mini-lesson in tasting extracts: Add a teaspoon to a glass of fresh, cold milk, stir and sip slowly. Tasted this way, the Gaya Vai-Mex is rounded and sweet, with a smooth but heady and complex true vanilla flavor—anything but plain.