A Recipe for Every Extract: Baked Goods

Cinnamon Crumb Muffins

2 cups plus 1/3 cup flour, divided
2/3 cup plus 1/4 cup sugar, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground
1 cup chunky applesauce*
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 teaspoons Epicurious Hedgehog Cinnamon Extract
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400F (200C). Lightly grease 12 muffin cups or line with paper baking cups. Set aside. Mix 2 cups flour, 2/3 cups sugar, baking powder, baking soda and nutmeg in large bowl. Mix applesauce, milk, oil, egg and extract in medium bowl. Add flour to mixture; stir just until dry ingredients are moistened.

Spoon batter into prepared muffin cups, filling each cup 2/3 full. Mix remaining 1/3 cup flour, remaining 1/4 sugar and butter. Sprinkle over batter. Bake 18 to 20 minutes or until toothpick inserted into center of muffins comes out clean. Serve warm.

*You can make your own applesauce. Bring 2 cored, chopped apples and ½ cup water to a boil, then reduce to bare simmer, cooking uncovered for 15 minutes. Puree apples in blender.


Chocolate Banana Cake

250 grams plain flour
50 grams Epicurious Hedgehog Cocoa Powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
A pinch salt
200 grams golden caster sugar
3 very ripe bananas, peeled, mashed
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon Epicurious Hedgehog Vanilla Extract
1 teaspoon Epicurious Hedgehog Cacao Extract
125 grams butter, melted
100 grams good-quality white chocolate, chopped (optional)
50 grams toasted chopped hazelnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F (175C). Grease and line a loaf tin.
Sift the plain flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and sugar into a large bowl and mix until well combined.

Mash the bananas in a separate bowl, stir in the eggs, extracts and melted butter.

Fold the banana mixture into the flour mixture until just combined. Fold in the chocolate and nuts and spoon the mixture into the loaf tin.

Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the cake is risen and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven, cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove the cake from the tin. Serve in slices.


Chocolate Orange Crownies

For cookies:
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 egg
2 teaspoons Epicurious Hedgehog Vanilla Extract
1 1/2 cups Epicurious Hedgehog Cacao Nibs or 1 package (12 ounces) mini chocolate chips

For brownies:
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup Epicurious Hedgehog Cocoa Powder
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
3 eggs
8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons Epicurious Hedgehog Vanilla Extract
1 tablespoon Epicurious Hedgehog Orange Extract

Preheat oven to 350F (175C). For cookies, mix flour, baking soda and salt in medium bowl. Set aside. Beat butter and sugars in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla; mix well. Gradually beat in flour mixture on low speed until well mixed. Stir in nibs/chocolate chips. Set aside.

To prepare brownies, put all of the ingredients into a large bowl in the order in which they’re written. Stir, then beat the mixture until it’s smooth. Spread in greased 13 by 9-inch baking pan.

Bake brownies 15 minutes. Drop cookie dough by tablespoonfuls onto brownies, covering the top evenly. (Batter will spread during baking). Bake 20 to 25 minutes longer or until cookie top is golden brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack before cutting into bars.


Mum’s Chocolate Nib Cookies

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons Epicurious Hedgehog Vanilla Extract
1 7/8 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups Epicurious Hedgehog Cacao Nibs or chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375F (190C). Mix sugars, flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl. Set aside. Mix butter, egg, vanilla together. Combine two mixtures. Add nibs/chocolate chips.

Spoon onto ungreased cookie sheet and bake until golden (10 to 12 minutes).


Mocha Molten Cakes

4 ounces semi-sweet baking chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 1/2 teaspoons Epicurious Hedgehog Coffee Extract, divided
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, divided
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
6 tablespoons flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup Epicurious Hedgehog Cacao Nibs, for topping

Preheat oven to 425F (220C). Butter 6 (6-ounce) custard cups or souffle dishes. Place on baking sheet.

Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwavable bowl on high for 1 minute or until butter is melted. Stir with wire whisk until butter is completely melted. Stir in 4 teaspoons of the coffee extract. Stir in 1 cup of the sugar until well blended. Whisk in eggs and yolk. Stir in flour and cinnamon. Pour batter into prepared custard cups.

Bake 10 to 14 minutes or until sides are firm but centers are soft. Meanwhile, beat cream, remaining 1/4 cups sugar and remaining 1/2 teaspoon coffee extract in medium bowl with electric mixer on high speed until firm peaks form. Refrigerate whipped cream until ready to serve.

Remove cakes from oven. Let stand one minute. Carefully loosen edges with small knife. Invert cakes onto serving plates. Serve immediately with whipped cream and sprinkle with cacao nibs.

All-Natural Epicurious Hedgehog Orange Extract

NEI’s all-natural Epicurious Hedgehog Orange Extract is made from sun-soaked bitter oranges (citrus x aurentium), hand-picked by farmers in the lush coastal groves of Tanga in Tanzania. Orange oil is extracted from the fruits’ peels by rolling them over a plate of spikes, a very time intensive process. The oil is then brought to NEI’s factory to be processed into extract.

The processing begins with a solution of sugarcane ethanol and water being added to an extraction tank. The orange oil is then stirred into this solution.


During the slow mixing process, which lasts for days, aromatic compounds from the oil dissolve into the solution, while the unpalatable compounds remain in the oil (these are called terpenes).

The mixture then cools and partitions itself. The oil settles on the top, separated from the extract by a buffer. The extract is removed from the tank, containing all the the bitter orange zest flavour from the oil, but with none of the terpenes remaining in the extract.

The extract is then filtered, bottled and ready to be sold. Recently, our orange extract has been significantly improved – its strength and flavour have been perfected. It is concentrated and flavoursome, bursting with bright citrus zest flavours. It is a perfect addition to baked goods, sorbets, ice-creams and cocktails. A very small amount goes a long way. Be sure to try this recipe for cranberry orange oatmeal cookies, mix yourself a cranberry orange rum cocktail, or whip up a balsamic orange vinaigrette for your salad, and experience the delicious citrus flavour for yourself!


Cranberry Orange Oatmeal Cookies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Epicurious Hedgehog Vanilla Extract
  • 1 teaspoon Epicurious Hedgehog Orange Extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 1 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a large bowl, cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar until smooth. Beat in the eggs one at a time, then stir in the vanilla and orange extract. Combine the flour, baking soda and cinnamon; stir into the butter mixture. Stir in the oats and cranberries. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven, or until golden brown. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

Cranberry Orange Rum Cocktail

  • 6 cups cranberry juice
  • 1 teaspoons Epicurious Hedgehog Orange Extract (add more as desired)
  • 1 1/2 cups spiced rum

Pour the cranberry juice, orange extract and rum into a glass pitcher. Stir to combine. Chill for four to six hours. Yields 4 servings.


Balsamic Orange Vinaigrette

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon spicy mustard or dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic or garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon lemon juice (fresh or bottled)
  • 1/8 teaspoon Epicurious Hedgehog Orange Extract

Whisk all ingredients together in a jar.

Meet our Farmer Champions!

NEI has over 1600 farmers registered in our agricultural network. Each farmer is provided with training and support in the practice of intercropping vanilla with their more traditional crops like bananas. In order to accomplish this training, NEI operates using a Farmer Champion model. Farmer Champions are well-respected members of their community who, in addition to caring for their own vanilla vines, visit and advise other farmers in their area. Farmer Champions attend training sessions, on topics such as pollination, disease and pest management, and harvesting, and disseminate this knowledge throughout our farmer network.

We are happy to introduce you to two of our most outstanding Farmer Champions!

Wilfred David Swaifullsizeoutput_3b51

Wilfred lives in the village of Mbweera in the Kilimanjaro region with his wife. After retiring from teaching, Wilfred expanded his small farm and now grows coffee, bananas, and vanilla vines. He has been with NEI for 5 years and has planted 70 vanilla vines at his farm!

Wilfred hopes to add more vanilla vines in the future. With his extra income from vanilla, he is able to invest in other economic activities, such as raising pigs and poultry, or his passion for beekeeping. He has also been able to extend the educational opportunities for his family.

Wilfred has a very important role at NEI. As a Farmer Champion, it is Wilfred’s role to share skills learned from NEI’s training sessions with our other farmers. For Wilfred this comes naturally, as his teaching background makes him a natural leader in the community.


Evaline Kimaro   fullsizeoutput_3b52

Evaline is a retired nurse who lives in the village of Mbosho in the Kilimanjaro region. Despite being retired, she often still works in her local dispensary, as well as looking after her farm and helping take care of her five grandchildren. Evaline grows coffee, bananas, maize, beans and vanilla.

Evaline has been growing vanilla vines for 12 years. This year, she had one of the largest harvests of all NEI’s farmers, despite the unfavourable weather. She worked incredibly hard to carry buckets of water to her plants to make sure the vines thrived.

Here, Evaline is shown participating in NEI’s training on pollination.

Vanilla Curing

Once NEI’s farmers harvest their vanilla pods, they are ready to be brought back to our factory for curing. When our field officers collect the harvest, all details about the batch are recorded, including who the farmer is and where their farm is located. This allows NEI to trace the vanilla from “farm to plate.”


When the pods arrive at the factory, they are still green and must be graded according to size and appearance. After grading, all of the pods are washed.  The next step is called blanching. This is when the pods are immersed in hot water, approximately 70 degrees Celsius. The temperature and time varies depending on the grade.

After the pods are blanched, they are wrapped in a clean blanket and stored in a wooden blanching box for 48 hours. During this stage, they begin to turn from green to brown.

When 48 hours have passed, it is time to begin the sun-drying stage. Each day, for a total of 28 days, the pods are spread out in the sun on a clean blanket for no more than two hours at a time. This is a labour intensive process.  If there is not enough sun, a tarp is placed over the pods to trap any existing heat. During this stage, the pods turn completely black and the characteristic vanilla aroma and flavour starts developing. Regular monitoring is done during this period to measure temperature and moisture content.fullsizeoutput_3bb7

Once sun-drying is complete, the pods are brought inside the factory to be sorted. They are organized into 1/2 kilogram bundles, wrapped in wax paper, and placed in a wooden box. The moisture content of the pods is measured every two weeks, and the humidity in the room is well controlled. During this stage, the pods complete the fermentation to finalise the  development of the full vanilla aroma.

Six months after the process begins, the pods are ready for sale or extraction.  Grades one, two and three pods are sold through distributors and retail outlets.

The grade four pods remain with NEI slightly longer. They are used to produce our Epicurious Hedgehog Vanilla Extract. To do this, pods are ground and then percolated at low temperature through distilled water and sugar cane ethanol in large tanks. This process takes approximately fourteen days, and the extract is then aged for several months for the full flavour to develop and the ethanol to mellow.


Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation at NEI

Because Kilimanjaro and its economy are largely dependent on the smallholder-based agriculture sector, they are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Approximately 90% of Tanzania’s population, as with the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa, is dependent on rain-fed crops for their food security. Climate change negatively impacts such crop production through rainfall variability and temperature shocks, threatening the livelihoods of farmers (Arslan, Belotti & Lipper, 2017; Moore et al., 2011).

Natural Extracts Industries (NEI) is working hard to address this. Our work firstly addresses deforestation through agroforestry. Because vanilla requires shade to grow, forest conservation is promoted throughout our network of farmers. This is vital, as cutting down forests releases the carbon stored within them into the atmosphere, a
process accounting for 17% of carbon emissions globally (Gorte & Sheikh, 2010). An estimated 500 to 750 tonnes of carbon are stored in each hectare of forest, with Tanzania losing approximately 400,000 hectares every year (Khatun et al., 2015; Komba & Muchapondwa, 2015). These emissions have drastically changed the local climate.


In order to help our farmers mitigate the effects of climate change on their vanilla and other crops, we have begun implementing several strategies, one of which is our rainwater harvesting project, funded by our partner organization MEDA. Farmers are selected for the program based on their level of water-stress, with priority given to our women farmers as well. They receive a rainwater harvesting tank and all required infrastructure installed at their farm free of charge. The size of the tank varies based on the number of vanilla vines each farmer grows.

fullsizeoutput_3b8bAfter receiving tanks from NEI, farmers are trained both on how to use the tanks and on how to most effectively utilize the harvested water for their irrigation purposes. Each vanilla vine requires approximately one litre of water a week, which can be achieved by implementing a bottle-drip irrigation system. NEI has already installed 74 tanks to 74 farmer beneficiaries, and aims to reach a total of 200 tanks by the end of 2018. In addition, NEI is also repairing water furrows.



Farmer Profile:fullsizeoutput_3b8c

Mary Ulomi lives in the village of Uswaa in Kilimanjaro with her husband and five children. Her livelihood is solely dependant on agriculture. Using her extra income generated from growing vanilla with NEI, Mary was able both to send her children to school and invest in other economic activities such as maize cultivation.

In the past, however, Mary has struggled with drought at her farm. She has even lost vanilla plants, which dried up due to the lack of water. In order to address this issue, NEI installed a rainwater harvest tank at Mary’s farm in August, and provided her with training on how to use her tank. She is now utilizing bottle-drip irrigation for her vanilla as well. Since the installation of the tank, her plants have remained in good health and she hopes to achieve increased yields in the coming season.



Arslan, A., Belotti, F., & Lipper, L. (2017). Smallholder productivity and weather shocks: Adoption and impact of widely promoted agricultural practices in Tanzania. Food Policy, 69, 68-81. doi:10.1016/j.foodpol.2017.03.005 (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919217301872)

Gorte, R. W., & Sheikh, P. A. (2010). Deforestation and Climate Change. Congressional Research Service. (http://forestindustries.eu/sites/default/files/userfiles/1file/R41144.pdf)

Khatun, K., Gross-Camp, N., Corbera, E., Martin, A., Ball, S., & Massao, G. (2015). When Participatory Forest Management makes money: insights from Tanzania on governance, benefit sharing, and implications for REDD. Environment and Planning A, 47(10), 2097-2112. doi:10.1177/0308518×15595899 (http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0308518X15595899)

Komba, C., & Muchapondwa, E. (2016). An analysis of factors affecting household willingness to participate in the REDD programme in Tanzania. Climate and Development, 1-14. doi:10.1080/17565529.2016.1145098 (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/296475511_An_analysis_of_factors_affecting_household_willingness_to_participate_in_the_REDD_programme_in_Tanzania)

Moore, N., Alagarswamy, G., Pijanowski, B., Thornton, P., Lofgren, B., Olson, J., . . . Qi, J. (2011). East African food security as influenced by future climate change and land use change at local to regional scales. Climatic Change, 110(3-4), 823-844. doi:10.1007/s10584-011-0116-7 (https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-011-0116-7)


It’s Pollination Season in Kilimanjaro!

This September, NEI held a special training for our Farmer Champions teaching them how to pollinate vanilla. This is such a vital part of the vanilla growing process that the training will be repeated three times. Our Farmer Champions will disseminate this knowledge throughout our entire network of more than 1600 farmers, ensuring that each farmer maximizes their harvest, and therefore their income!

Hand pollination of vanilla is a very delicate process. Each flower blooms only once and must be pollinated within a 6 to 8 hour window of doing so. To complete the pollination, our farmers use a toothpick to push up the rostellum, a very small flap in the centre of the flower. This allows pollen to be passed from the anther to the stigma.


At our training, farmers receive hands-on instruction from our field officers on how to do this correctly. Each farmer can practice their pollination skills, as well as provide support and advice to one another. Pollination is so important because it enables the vine to grow long green fruits, commonly referred to as pods. These green pods are what is harvested and then cured to make black vanilla pods, which in turn are used to make the Epicurious Hedgehog Vanilla Extract you know and love!

The reason vanilla must be pollinated by hand is a rather interesting one. Vanilla, which originates from the tropical forests of Mexico, can only be pollinated in nature by a very specific type of bee known as the melipona bee.

When Mexico was colonized, Europeans fell in love with the flavour and took vanilla plants back with them to grow in their tropical African colonies. Since the melipona bee does not exist elsewhere in the world, the vanilla was not pollinated and, therefore, did not produce fruit.

Europeans tried unsuccessfully to introduce the melipona bee, and it wasn’t until 1836 that Belgian botanist Charles Morren discovered it was possible to pollinate vanilla by hand. Since then, vanilla has been enjoyed as a delicious flavour worldwide.  



Howell, M. (2016, May 05). Hand-pollination used to produce vanilla. Retrieved September 26, 2017, from http://newsok.com/article/5496227

Kull, T., Arditti, J., & Wong, S. M. (2009). Orchid biology: reviews and perspectives, X. New York: Springer.


We often receive questions about how to use our cacao extract because it seems like it does the same thing as cocoa powder. But it doesn’t! It can be used to lightly flavour other recipes or enhance already chocolate recipes! It is great to add to chocolate cakes, brownies, chocolate drinks and other chocolatey foods! You can really tell the difference between a plain chocolate recipe and an Epicurious Hedgehog Cacao Extract recipe!

Here at the Natural Extracts Industries Ltd office, we decided this was a very important science experiment that needed to be conducted. We sacrificed part of our day to eat warm, chocolatey brownies, all for you!

We had 3 types of brownies to try:

  • A basic brownie recipe with Epicurious Hedgehog Vanilla Extract
  • Brownies with Epicurious Hedgehog Vanilla Extract and Orange Extract
  • Brownies with Epicurious Hedgehog Vanilla Extract and Cacao Extract

The basic brownie recipe was, of course, delicious! The vanilla extract is necessary to round out the chocolate, add a naturally sweet flavour and cover any possible “eggy” flavours that you wouldn’t want in a dessert.

The brownies with orange extract were very unique! The vanilla extract is there for the same purposes as before and to help cut the bitterness that citrus can cause. The orange extract resulted in a bright flavour that pleasantly surprised us in our blind taste test! If you are a fan of chocolate and orange pairings, then you definitely need to try adding 1/2 teaspoon of Epicurious Hedgehog Orange Extract to your next batch of brownies.

The last brownie was unanimously voted as the office’s favourite brownie in the blind taste test. In this brownie, the vanilla was once again there for the same purposes, but the Epicurious Cocoa Extract took the brownie to a whole new level of deliciousness! The cacao extract made the chocolate flavour extra strong and gave it a rich, dark flavour!

This is a must try in your next batch of brownies or any other chocolate recipe!

Check out our website, to learn where you can pick up Epicurious Hedgehog Extracts.

Announcing the NEI Scholarship Winner!

Natural Extracts Industries, Ltd is proud to announce the recipient of our scholarship prize this year. Mama Lwise Ndosa is a 62-year-old farmer of Uswaa village in Machame just east of the Kilimanjaro region of Tanzania. Mama Ndosa who is part of our farmer network was our top producing farmer in the last harvest.

NEI’s commitment to its farmers means the company invests in and contributes to improving the lives of farmers in our network. By awarding a scholarship to a dependent of the most successful vanilla farmer we believe we can empower the next generation with additional skills. The scholarship provides a schoolgirl of the best farmer a 1-year scholarship to primary or secondary education. Being a grandparent with no school aged children, Mama Ndosa has chosen to support a child of her late sister through this program.

In the picture above, Mama Lwise Ndosa’s local Farmer Champion accepts her prize for her at a NEI meeting.

It was her husband who first registered with NEI, having grown vanilla since 2011. However, he stopped tending to the vines and Mama Ndosa took over from him having seen the benefits of vanilla farming. Mama Ndosa is committed to NEI because of the support of the Farmer Champions, subsidised vanilla vines and continuous training in vanilla husbandry. 

Her successful harvest of last year means she feels motivated to carry on and expects another great harvest this year, despite the drought in the region. We will be watching to see if she can match her harvest last year and win another scholarship!

Watch this video of Mama Ndosa talking about her experience selling her vanilla to NEI:

Tracking Vanilla In Tanzania

At Natural Extracts Industries, Ltd. we are proud of the high-quality standards we have set for sustainable vanilla production in Tanzania.  Each year we strive to improve the processes from planting, cultivation, pollination, harvesting, purchasing and finally the curing.  How vanilla from other countries comes to market has been the target of mystery and sometimes even stories of farmer exploitation.

So, now more than ever it has become important to track the source of vanilla we collect from our farmers to provide added transparency and accountability into the supply chain of our vanilla.  As we move to certify farms producing organic vanilla, it will provide additional assurances that our farmers continue to be paid fairly and ensure certified farms continue to use best practices.

Aarti Mahajan, who joined the NEI team to lead the initiative to deploy an ICT platform, called Source Trace,  to our farmer network says, “Source Trace provides complete visibility of our vanilla from the farm to our factory.  The ease of use of the interface allows us to distribute tablets with the Source Trace application to our lead farmers.  Source Trace is a powerful tool that allows the NEI team to access real-time data anytime from anywhere in the world.”

Working with partners like Source Trace provides NEI with the forward-looking technology that will continue to make us a leading provider of the highest quality vanilla available on the world market.