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Vanilla Cultivation

The Vanilla Orchid

Vanilla planifolia
Vanilla pompona

The Species

Common Name : VANILLA
Genus Species : Vanilla planifolia, Vanilla pompona, Vanilla tahitiensis
Family : Orchidaceae
Origin : Central America, West Indies, Northern South America
Cultivated : Madagascar, Comoros Islands, Reunion, French Polynesia, Tahiti, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mozambique, Seychelles, Uganda, Guatemala, Mexico

The main species harvested for vanillin is Vanilla planifolia. Although it is native to Mexico, it is now widely grown throughout the tropics. Madagascar is the world's largest producer. Additional sources include Vanilla pompona and Vanilla tahitiensis (grown in Tahiti) - although the vanillin content of these species is much less than Vanilla planifolia.

As a country Indonesia is well placed for the cultivation of vanilla and in fact the quality of vanilla
produced in Indonesia is considerably higher than the average International standards

Vanilla grows as a vine, climbing up an existing tree, pole, or other support. It can be grown in a wood (on trees), in a plantation (on trees or poles), or in a "shader", in increasing orders of productivity. Left alone, it will grow as high as possible on the support, with few flowers. Every year, growers fold the higher parts of the plant downwards so that the plant stays at heights accessible by a standing human. This also greatly stimulates flowering.

Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family, the largest family of flowering plants in the world.

The Flower

The distinctively flavoured compounds are found in the fruit, which results from the pollination of the flower. One flower produces one fruit. Vanilla planifolia flowers are hermaphroditic: they carry both male (anther) and female (stigma) organs; however, to avoid self-pollenization, a membrane separates those organs. Such flowers may only be naturally pollinated by a specifically equipped bee found in Mexico. Growers have tried to bring this bee into other growing locales, to no avail. The only way to produce fruits is thus artificial pollination. A simple and efficient artificial pollination method was introduced in 1841 by a 12 year-old slave named Edmond Albius on R�union: a method still used today. Using a beveled sliver of bamboo, an agricultural worker folds back the membrane separating the anther and the stigma, then presses the anther on the stigma. The flower is then self-pollinated, and will produce a fruit. The vanilla flower lasts about one day, sometimes less, thus growers have to inspect their plantations every day for open flowers, a labour-intensive task.

The Fruit

The fruit is a seed pod, if left on the plant, will ripen and open at the end; it will then release the distinctive vanilla smell. The fruit contains tiny, flavourless seeds. In dishes prepared with whole natural vanilla, these seeds are recognizable as black specks. Like other orchids' seeds, vanilla seed will not germinate without the presence of certain mycorrhizal fungi. Instead, growers reproduce the plant by cutting: they remove sections of the vine with six or more leaf nodes, a root opposite each leaf. The two lower leaves are removed, and this area is buried in loose soil at the base of a support. The remaining upper roots will cling to the support, and often grow down into the soil. Growth is rapid under good conditions.


Though there are many compounds present in the extracts of vanilla, the compound vanillin (4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde) is primarily responsible for the characteristic flavour and smell of vanilla. Another minor component of vanilla essential oil is piperonal (heliotropin). Piperonal and other substances affect the odour of natural vanilla. Vanilla essence comes in two forms. Real seedpod extract is an extremely complicated mixture of several hundred different compounds. Synthetic essence, consisting basically of a solution of synthetic vanillin in ethanol is derived from phenol.

Stages of production

1. Harvest
The pods are harvested while green and immature. At this stage, they are odourless.
2. Killing
The vegetative tissue of the vanilla pod is killed to prevent further growing. The method of killing varies, but may be accomplished by sun killing, oven killing, hot water killing, killing by scratching, or killing by freezing.
3. Sweating
The pods are held for 7 to 10 days under hot (45�-65�C or 115�-150�F) and humid conditions; pods are often placed into fabric covered boxes immediately after boiling. This allows enzymes to process the compounds in the pods into vanillin and other compounds important to the final vanilla flavour.
4. Drying
To prevent rotting and to lock the aroma in the pods, the pods are dried. Often, pods are laid out in the sun during the mornings and returned to their boxes in the afternoons. When 25-30% of the pods' weight is moisture (as opposed to the 60-70% they began drying with) they have completed the curing process and will exhibit their fullest aromatic qualities.
5. Grading
Once fully cured, the vanilla is sorted by quality and graded.


There are three main commercial preparations of natural vanilla:
* whole pod
* powder (ground pods, kept pure or blended with sugar, starch or other ingredients)
* extract (in alcoholic solution)
Vanilla flavouring in food may be achieved by adding vanilla extract or by cooking vanilla pods in the liquid preparation. A stronger aroma may be attained if the pods are split in two, exposing more of the pod's surface area to the liquid. In this case, the pods' seeds are mixed into the preparation. Natural vanilla gives a brown or yellow colour to preparations, depending on the concentration.

Specific types of vanilla

Bourbon vanilla or Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla, produced from Vanilla planifolia plants introduced from the Americas, is the term used for vanilla from Indian Ocean islands such as Madagascar, the Comoros, and R�union, formerly the �le Bourbon.

Mexican vanilla, made from the native Vanilla planifolia, is produced in much less quantity and marketed as the vanilla from the land of its origin. Vanilla sold in tourist markets around Mexico is sometimes not actual vanilla extract, but is mixed with an extract of the tonka bean, which contains coumarin. Tonka bean extract smells and tastes like vanilla, but coumarin has been shown to cause liver damage in lab animals and is banned in the US by the Food and Drug Administration.

Tahitian vanilla is the name for vanilla from French Polynesia, made with Vanilla tahitiensis.

The term French vanilla is not a type of vanilla, but is often used to designate preparations that have a strong vanilla aroma, and contain vanilla grains. The name originates from the French style of making ice cream custard base with vanilla pods, cream, and egg yolks.

French vanilla is commonly misrepresented in coffee shops as a flavour of syrup, however it is not possible to recreate a true French vanilla flavour in coffee. Therefore flavours that are referred to as "French Vanilla" in cafes do not create a French vanilla flavour in any form, although this is a wide-reaching misconception in certain cafe cultures. Barnie's Coffee & Tea Company creates their "French vanilla" by combining vanilla and praline flavours, whereas Starbucks Coffee Company does not currently offer "french vanilla" flavour.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla native to Mexico. Etymologically, the word vanilla derived from the Spanish name of the spice, vainilla, and is a diminutive of vaina "sheath, vagina, pod" (from Proto-Indo-European WAG "hollow"), perhaps motivated by the sheath-like shape of the fruit. The species name, planifolia, refers to the striking flat shape of the leaves. Originally cultivated by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican peoples, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s. Attempts to cultivate the vanilla plant outside Mexico and Central America proved futile because of the symbiotic relationship between the tlilxochitl vine that produced the vanilla orchid and the local species of Melipona bee it was not until 1837 that Belgian botanist Charles François Antoine Morren discovered this fact and pioneered a method of artificially pollinating the plant. The method proved financially unworkable and was not deployed commercially. In 1841, a 12-year-old French-owned slave by the name of Edmond Albius, who lived on Île Bourbon, discovered the plant could be hand pollinated, allowing global cultivation of the plant. There are currently three major cultivars of vanilla grown globally, all derived from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern day Mexico. The various subspecies are Vanilla planifolia (syn. V. fragrans), grown on Madagascar, Reunion and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean V. tahitensis, grown in the South Pacific and V. pompona, found in the West Indies, Central and South America. The majority of the world's vanilla is the V. planifolia variety, more commonly known as "Madagascar-Bourbon" vanilla, which is produced in a small region of Madagascar and in Indonesia. Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron, due to the extensive labor required to grow the vanilla seed pods. Despite the expense, it is highly valued for its flavor, which author Frederic Rosengarten, Jr. described in The Book of Spices as "pure, spicy, and delicate" and its complex floral aroma depicted as a "peculiar bouquet." Despite its high cost, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture and aromatherapy.

Further Information

Vanilla Politics -

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