Vanilla vines grow 30-50 ft tall, supported by a host tree or posts.
Must be grown in a hot, moist, tropical climate, 75°-85°F.
Grows only 10-20° North or South of the Equator.
The vanilla vine is an orchid which is indigenous to South Eastern Mexico. Dating back to Cortez’s conquest of the Aztec Kingdom in 1519, it is one of the most ancient flavors.
Many people have tried to re-locate the vanilla plant but initially failed because those locations did not have the Melipone Bee. Now, in other parts of the world, humans must hand-pollinate the vanilla vines.
A stick, the size of a toothpick is used to hand-pollinate the vanilla beans.
It is possible to grow the same vanilla vine in Madagascar, Indonesia, Tahiti, Papua New Guinea and India, but all five cured beans have their own distinctive flavor due to differing soil and climate conditions.
THE VANILLA ORCHID LASTS ONLY 24 HOURS
Vanilla is an orchid and one of the few that produces fruit.
The flower blooms for 24 hours and must be pollinated or dies.
Indigenous to southeastern Mexico.
Vanilla is extracted from the cured pods (beans) of the orchid flowers from vanilla vines
When the beans are harvested, they are treated with hot water or heat and are then placed in the sun every day for weeks to months until they have shrunk to 20% of their original size.
THE ONLY EDIBLE FRUIT OF THE ORCHID FAMILY
Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family, the largest family of flowering plants in the world. There are over 150 varieties of vanilla plants.
Just like grapes that make wine, no two vanilla beans are the same in flavor, aroma, or color.
Vanilla is still the most favorite ice cream flavor in the US.
The dairy industry uses a huge percentage of the world’s vanilla in ice creams, yogurts, and other flavored dairy products.
To accentuate flavors, add a few drops of vanilla to most recipes that contain fruit, vegetables, meat or fish.
With a love of botany and cooking, President Thomas Jefferson was the first American to bring vanilla to the United States. Jefferson brought vanilla beans home to the US in 1789 following his tenure as ambassador to France. The United States is the largest consumer of vanilla in the world, followed by Europe (France represents most of the European consumption).
A few drops of vanilla will cut the acidity of tomato-based foods.
THE MANY USES FOR VANILLA
The United States is the world’s largest consumer of vanilla, followed by Europe – especially France.
Vanilla is not only used as a flavor in foods and beverages but also in perfumes.
Vanilla has many industrial applications such as a flavoring for medicines and as a fragrance to conceal the strong smell of rubber tires, paint and cleaning products.
About 2,000-2,500 tons of vanilla beans are produced worldwide each year.
Spiders don’t like vanilla. Use whole vanilla beans to drive away those eight-legged creatures.
VANILLA’S HISTORY AND HERITAGE
The definition of the word vanilla is “little pod” in Spanish.
The Aztecs called vanilla tlilxóchitl, meaning black flower. This indicates that they were more interested in the cured bean, which is a dark brown, rather than the flower itself which is a greenish white.
Vanilla first left Mexico in the early 1500s on ships bound for Spain. It was originally believed only to have value as a perfume. It wasn’t until Cortes arrived in 1519 that the Spaniards learned it was also a flavor.
Vanilla is the world’s second most labor-intensive agricultural crop. During some growing seasons, vanilla bean farmers will “tattoo” their beans with small markings (made with toothpick-sized instruments) to prevent theft and protect their labor investment.
French vanilla beans have the distinction of being called “Bourbon” Vanilla because the cultivation first started on the island of Reunion, East of Madagascar. At the time, it was known as the “Island of Bourbon.” Now beans from Reunion, Madagascar and Comoros are considered “Bourbon” Beans.
Until the late 19th century, Mexico had the monopoly on growing vanilla plants, but now Madagascar and Indonesia grow the majority of the world’s crop. Additional countries that grow vanilla includes Guatemala, Costa Rica, Uganda, China, India, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Fiji, Tahiti, and the Philippines.
The aroma of vanilla is known as calming, relaxing, and sensual, and used as an aphrodisiac in some cultures.
A 1990s study of patients undergoing tests at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York found that the scent of vanilla soothed patients — especially while undergoing magnetic resonance imaging.
In some cultures, vanilla was a sacred medicinal herb, used to heal and soothe. Dr. John King wrote in the American Dispensatory of 1859, “vanilla is an aromatic stimulant useful in infusions for treating hysteria, rheumatism and low forms of fever. It is said to exhilarate the brain, increase muscular energy and stimulate sexual propensities.”