What is Vanilla? ORDER NOW
Vanilla is a member of the orchid family, the largest and oldest family of flowering plants in the world. Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the entire orchid family, which includes roughly 25,000 orchid varieties and over 10,000 hybrids. It grows best in the moist, tropical regions of the world 15-1/2 degrees to the north and south of the Equator.
Vanilla is a food of the Americas, originating in what is now Mexico, Central America, northern South America and the Caribbean. It is both an epiphyte, a plant that uses nutrients from the air, and a root producing orchid. It is a vine and must have a support (tree post, etc.) on which to grow.
Why is it so Expensive?
Vanilla is the most labor-intensive agricultural product in the world, which is why it is so expensive. After planting a three-foot (one meter) vine cutting, it will take at least 1-1/2 years before the vine flowers. The flowers must be hand pollinated. The beans remain on the vine for nine months. They are harvested by hand, must then go through a curing, drying and resting period, which takes three to five months. It takes at least three years from planting to sale. That said, farmers make pennies on the dollar for their beans. The people who make the most money are often the middlemen and the speculators who invest in vanilla.
Where is it Grown?
Vanilla grows best 15-1/2 degrees north and south of the equator, but only in moist humid regions. Vanilla is native to the Americas. The center of the American vanilla industry is in the northern part of Veracruz state, but production in Mexico is currently very limited. The majority of vanilla is now produced on the island of Madagascar in Africa. East Africa also produces vanilla. Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, India and Polynesia grow vanilla for sale. Vanilla is also grown in the Caribbean, and even Hawaiians grow vanilla, but production is small and mostly sold locally to tourists.
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What are Vanilla Beans?
Vanilla beans are technically the ovary of the vanilla orchid. The orchids flower once a year and live for less than a day. In their native Mexico, they are occasionally pollinated naturally by two varieties of bees. Most of the time, vanilla orchids are pollinated by hand everywhere they are grown. Within three days after pollination, the vanilla bean appears. It grows to its full length within two weeks but must stay on the vine for nine months before being picked by hand. It will have no flavor or fragrance when it is picked.
Once picked, vanilla beans go through a very intensive month to six weeks of processing. They are cured, dried and then massaged to bring up their fragrant oils. They will be sorted by size, allowed to rest for a month or two, then bundled, before being shipped. They are handled hundreds of times before they are ready for you to use.
There are two types of vanilla beans used for cooking: Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla tahitensis. Vanilla planifolia is the type of vanilla most frequently used in baking, ice creams, etc and has the flavor most of us associate with vanilla. Vanilla tahitensis is a cross between Vanilla planifolia and Vanilla odorata. The plant stock was taken to Tahiti by sailing ship in the mid-1800s, but it wasn’t grown to sell until the turn of the twentieth century. It became known as Tahitian vanilla at that time. Read More