If they didn’t already know you were a food snob…

I love my job. Where else could I mix up a batch of homemade cream soda and call it work?

To train and develop our palates we like to hold comparative ingredient tastings. Purely for scientific purposes – and also when we get a bit peckish in the afternoon. Recently we tried four different vanilla extract varieties*: Madagascar, Tahitian, Mexican and Imitation (bleh). Next time your foodie friends are over, arrange your own vanilla tasting:

  1. Mix ½ teaspoon of each vanilla variety into to ¼ cup of seltzer (you can also try it with milk) for each guest. If you use the seltzer it’ll taste like a dry cream soda! And you’ll get points for creating your own housemade soft drink. How chic of you.

  2. Give each taster a pen and paper, a glass of water, a few bland crackers and a cup of each vanilla variety mixture. Mark each with a number – use plastic cups or glasses with a piece of masking tape for marking, paper cups might interfere with the subtle vanilla flavor.

  3. Have the guests smell each sample, number by number, and write down his or her impressions. Does it smell like anything else they recognize – a type of food, a flower, a fruit? What does it remind them of? What baked goods would it go well in, based on scent alone?

  4. Have each guest taste the sample, slurping as they drink it to help release the subtle flavor and scent. Then consider the aftertaste, the flavor left in your mouth after you swallow the vanilla mixture. Guests should write down their thoughts on the flavor, there’s no right or wrong answer.

  5. Sipping water and eating a cracker between each variety is a good way to cleanse the palate and get it ready for the next sample.

  6. Review your guests’ notes as a group and then reveal the origin of each sample.

  7. Bonus round: put on your chef’s hat and bake up a batch of desserts, using a different vanilla variety in each one (try homemade ice cream, cheesecake of course, or cupcakes) before the party. See if your tasters can guess which vanilla was used in each. OR, bake up a batch as a group activity and make a night of it.

Try it with different chocolates or coffee varieties, too. It’s fun and easy.

Kind of like a wine tasting, but totally SFW.

*We get our vanilla from Nielsen-Massey, a great family-owned company in Illinois. Check out their where-to-buy page for sources.

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