The Food Issue

Vain Foods takes vanilla to a whole new level

Irish Vanilla Coffee Drops, produced in small batches by Vain Foods, are made, bottled and labeled by hand by Kate Banks and her partner, Charlie Hammond. The pair combine vanilla beans from around the world with spirits.
Irish Vanilla Coffee Drops, produced in small batches by Vain Foods, are made, bottled and labeled by hand by Kate Banks and her partner, Charlie Hammond. The pair combine vanilla beans from around the world with spirits. The Kansas City Star

Vain Foods infused vanillas were born when friends Kate Banks and Charlie Hammond surveyed the local foodie-products landscape and discovered no one was making gourmet vanilla extract. Vanilla extract must have an alcoholic base to stabilize and preserve the extract of the vanilla bean, which is harvested from a plant in the orchid family.

Banks and Hammond decided to pair high-quality vanilla beans from around the world with spirits. The results are concoctions Banks makes in the basement kitchen of her Mission Hills home. Labels list the provenance of the bean and the type of spirit. For example: Tonga Apple Brandy or Madagascar Vodka.

A bonus: When the bottle of extract is empty, there is still an infused bean inside that can be scraped out for use in cookies or pound cake.

The 4-ounce bottles of vanilla extract were selling well at $12.95 or $13.95, but when Banks and Hammond bottled a small batch in 2-ounce jars with rubber dropper lids for $6.95 and marketed them as “drops,” sales really took off.

“The drops have become best-sellers because people like to put them in the milk for their coffee in the morning,” Banks says. Other uses for just a drop or two include freshly beaten whipped cream and hot cereal for breakfast.

For now, Banks’ dining room table is the staging ground for bottling and labeling, which she does all by hand. Time will tell if sales grow to the point where that becomes a vain endeavor, forcing Vain Foods to automate some of its processes.

Vain Foods: Available at the Sundry and vainfoods.com; Facebook; Twitter @vainfoods; Instagram @vain_foods

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