Vanilla is a climbing plant that produces beans that are used to flavor food. Vanilla is widely used to flavor beverages, food, and it is used as a parfum fragrance. There is no real replacement for natural vanilla as the synthetic form has much less to offer. Vanilla planifolia is the world’s most popular variant but the production of the beans can't keep up with the surge in demand from the food industry.

1 aerial roots
2 vanilla pod
3 vanilla ripe bean

vanilla history

Vanilla planifolia originates from Mexico. The Totonaco people of the Vera Cruz region in Mexico were the first to cultivate the vanilla crop. These tribes in those areas ground up the vanilla beans and used them as a ceremonial incense, but not as a flavoring. It was used by the Aztecs to flavor their cacao-based drink xocoatl, or chocolate. Vanilla was brought to Europe afther is discovery, but it took nearly three centuries before anyone figured out how to pollinate vanilla.
The vanilla orchid in Mexico happens to be pollinated by the Melipone bee, and the pollunation can only be done in a very short period as the flowers on the plant only bloom one day of the year, essentially from dawn to dusk. The Melipone be only lives in Central America, restricting the area where the vanilla can be cultivated. In 1865 the vanilla was introduced in India, the flowers were hand pollinated. It was introduced in Madagascar that became by far the most prominent producer of the vanilla pods nowadays.

vanilla cultivars

There are about a thousend cultivars of the vanilla, but only two are used in wide commercial production due to its taste and smell: Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitiensis.
Vanilla planifolia acounts for almost all the natural vanilla production.

growing vanilla

Vanilla is harvested at the start of the summer, the bean undergoes scalding, drying, maturing, and hand-sorting. The green beans are cooked with water and fermentation transform those beans into the fragrance filled black pods that are used to flavor food.

The vanilla planifolia orchid, Cultivating the vanilla plant is very labour-intensive because the flowers have to be hand-pollinated within 12 hours of opening, since the bees that are the plant’s natural pollinators are not found outside Central America, the vanilla orchid’s original home. That makes Brazil and Central America a good place to grow vanilla.

vanilla parfume

Vanilla is frequently used as a main note in popular fragrances. Vanilla is also considered as a natural aphrodisiac in many cultures. The vanilla fragrance main components are vanillin and piperonal (heliotropine) Once, the vanilla perfume has been relegated to fragrances for young girls, but this vieuw is changing: Nowadays the parfumes for mature ladies often contains vanillin and heliotropin.

Dracaena refexa of Jatropha curcas are used as a support giving crop for the vanilla orchid, as can be seen on this old illustration.