The vanilla pod (also known as the vanilla bean) contain the seeds of the vanilla orchid. The vanilla orchid is a vine-like plant that grows up trees and only flowers for a short period of time. They are harvested when they are green and the turn brown as they dry.
They have a deep, complicated aromatic flavour and are used to enhance other flavours in baking especially.
Vanilla pods are used as an ingredient in many desserts, puddings and baking recipes like cakes, brownies and cupcakes. It is also used to make ice cream!
Vanilla extract is made by infusing vanilla pods with water and alcohol. Because of the way it is made vanilla extract is naturally a deep dark brown colour.
Vanilla pods tend to be a bit pricy, they are the worlds second-most expensive spice after saffron. This is because it is hard to cultivate as each flower has to be hand-pollinated. You can but vanilla pods in most good supermarkets.
Using a vanilla pod
There are many different ways to use a vanilla bean. There are two parts of the pod that can be used, and they are the pod and the seeds inside.
Using the whole pod
Place the vanilla bean and place it on a chopping board. Take a sharp knife and remove both ends then chop the pod finely. You can also add it to a blender.
Using the seeds
Place the vanilla bean and place it on a chopping board. Take a sharp knife and remove both ends. Slice down the centre of the pod with the tip on your knife and cut open one side of the pod. Open up the pod with your fingers. You can use a knife or a spoon to scrape out the seeds.