The Real Organic Vanilla Deal

Goodlifer: The Real Organic Vanilla Deal

Tell me the truth: what kind of vanilla extract do you have in the house now? Is it something you bought in the grocery store? If so, too bad; you don’t know what you’re missing. Not that I blame you; I grew up on vanilla extract like that, as well, and it was fine when I was a kid. But somehow, and I don’t recall just how this happened, I found Nielsen-Massey Vanillas, and once I did it was as though someone had opened a portal to culinary enlightenment.

Nielsen-Massey Vanillas.

Nielsen-Massey Vanillas.

In the days when I was a recipe developer, I would buy the extract by the quart. I used it in absolutely everything, from spiced coffee to chocolate soufflé to my very best Black Bottom Banana Cream Pie. There are a number of different vanillas available, depending upon what you’re making, but my favorite was always the Madagascar Bourbon (despite the name, this vanilla has nothing to do with the American alcohol called “bourbon,” but is named for the Bourbon Islands off the African coast).

Vanilla beans at the Nielsen-Massey factory.

Vanilla beans at the Nielsen-Massey factory.

Crushed and ground vanilla beans.

Crushed and ground vanilla beans.

Nielsen-Massey has been making their vanillas in Chicago since 1907. The family-owned company is currently located in Waukegan, where the factory moved after outgrowing the previous Webster Street location in the city. The vanilla beans arrive to the factory freshly picked, they are then crushed and ground into smaller pieces before the extraction process begins. From beginning to end this takes about three to five weeks.

Nielsen-Massey is a family-owned company, established in 1907 (Nielsen came along later).

Nielsen-Massey is a family-owned company, established in 1907 (Nielsen came along later).

Workers putting labels on vanilla extract at the Nielsen-Massey factory in Waukegan, IL.

Workers putting labels on vanilla extract at the Nielsen-Massey factory in Waukegan, IL.

If discovering Nielsen-Massey Vanillas was a leap forward in my culinary education, finding out that they produce a line of organic vanilla products was a revelation. Not only is my treasured Madagascar Bourbon extract available as an organic product, but this business also offers Madagascar Bourbon Organic Vanilla Beans (fantastic when you want a true, deeply vanilla flavor) and organic Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Powder. The concept of vanilla powder seems strange to many people, but it’s a wonderful ingredient. For example, if you want to make your own hot cocoa mix to give as a gift, a little vanilla powder adds a gorgeous flavor and rounds out the aroma.

Nielsen-Massey Organic Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, Beans & Powder.

Nielsen-Massey Organic Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract, Beans & Powder.

People spend great sums on scented products that are supposed to improve their mood, but if there’s a cook or baker in your life, I’ll bet you anything you please that Nielsen-Massey Organic Vanillas will be all the aromatherapy he or she ever needs.

Get more information. Buy online.

Factory photos via Chicagoist.

About author
Stephanie Zonis was born with a spoon in her mouth — a tasting spoon, that is. She began cooking (especially baking) at a very early age, and for a short time even ran a highly illegal baking business from her long-suffering parents’ house when she was in high school. After acquiring a Master’s Degree in Foods, she eventually discovered the Internet in 1997. She’s been writing about food and developing recipes, especially where chocolate is involved, ever since. During those few moments when she’s not cooking or writing or thinking about food, Stephanie enjoys reading, walking, political discussions, and volunteering at a local no-kill cat sanctuary. She has been a member of a medieval re-creation group for longer than she’ll admit and loves absurdist humor.
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. Hi Stephanie. I just wanted to send a quick note to thank you for such a great write up on our company and products. Thank you! I also wanted to point out that we have recently discontinued the Organic Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder as the cost to produce was too high for the market to sustain. We do still offer our conventional Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Powder which is also all natural, sugar and alcohol free. Thank you again and have a happy new year!

    Best Regards,
    Matt Nielsen
    Nielsen-Massey vanillas

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