Justin at Marx Foods was kind enough to send me a generous sample (6 each!) of both Madagascar and Tahitian vanilla beans. Based on the descriptions on their website (below), I chose a Tahitian bean for this recipe thinking the more fruity and floral fragrance and sweetness would pair well with the hibiscus.
"Madagascar vanilla beans are botanically known as Vanilla planifolia or Bourbon vanilla beans. These beans are long and slender with a rich flavor and aroma. Madagascar vanilla beans have thick, oily skin with an abundance of seeds. They are the most common vanilla beans on the market today."
"Tahitian vanilla beans are usually shorter, plumper, and contain a higher oil and water content than Bourbon beans. When compared to Bourbon vanilla beans, they have a slightly more fruity and floral aroma, but an equally rich vanilla flavor."
About the refresher the book says, "Jamaica flowers (dried hibiscus) can be found in Mexican, Latin American, or Asian grocery stores, or in the ethnic section of supermarkets. Jamaica is often used as a tea as well."
Jamaica Agua Fresca (Red Hibiscus Refresher)
"The Vanilla Chef" by Patricia Rain
(Makes 2 Quarts)
1 quart water
2/3 cup (1 ounce) dried hibiscus flowers
3/4-1 cup sugar (to taste) (see my Notes/Results below)
1 vanilla bean, sliced lengthwise
1 quart cold water
In a large saucepan, bring the quart of water to a boil. Add flowers and vanilla bean to the boiling water, remove from the stove, and allow to steep for at least 20 minutes. Strain the mixture into a 2-quart pitcher, saving the vanilla bean for another use. Add the sugar and stir to dissolve. Add cold water and adjust sweetening. Chill and serve over ice.
Variation: Cut cold water to 1 pint and add 1 quart cold ginger ale.
Notes/Results: Really good. It is interesting how the vanilla sweetens and softens the tangy taste of the hibiscus. Since I used the hibiscus I had on hand which was half dried hibiscus and half dried sweetened hibiscus, there was no need in my mind for the extra sugar--it was plenty sweet without. I think the 3/4 to 1 cup mentioned in the recipe would be a bit to sweet regardless and would definitely add it to taste.
Vanilla Tip: Reuse your beans! Both the book and the Marx foods website recommend rinsing and drying the vanilla bean after steeping it to use again as a lot of the flavor still remains. (I feel bad for all the beans I have used once and tossed over the years!) Marx Foods says: "There are dozens of ways to use vanilla beans. When you have a recipe that calls for the inner scraping of the vanilla beans, don’t throw away the pod. They still have plenty of flavor left in them. In fact, depending on how you use them, vanilla bean can often be reused over and over again. For example, if you want to soak them in a beverage such a mulled cider or lemonade take them out when finished and rinse and dry the bean. If there is only the pod left, or, if you've used the bean several times for flavoring beverages let the pieces dry, and retire them to the sugar or coffee jar as they will exude a delicate flavor and fragrance for some time to come. Beans that have been used once or twice can also be ground up and used to add additional flavor to ice creams, cookies, and many other foods."
I have a few more vanilla recipes tagged in "The Vanilla Chef" to try out more of my vanilla samples, and will be experimenting with the black garlic soon too. Mahalo to Marx Foods for giving me a chance to try them!