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Vanilla


Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, primarily from the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla (V. planifolia). The word vanilla, derived from the diminutive of the Spanish word vaina (vaina itself meaning sheath or pod), is translated simply as "little pod".Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid, called tlilxochitl by the Aztecs. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s.

Initial attempts to cultivate vanilla outside Mexico and Central America proved futile because of the symbiotic relationship between the vanilla orchid and its natural pollinator, the local species of Melipona bee. Pollination is required to set the fruit from which the flavoring is derived. In 1837, 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, Edmond Albius, a slave who lived on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, discovered at the age of 12 that the plant could be hand-pollinated. Hand-pollination allowed global cultivation of the plant.

Three major species of vanilla currently are grown globally, all of which derive from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern-day Mexico. They are V. planifolia (syn. V. fragrans), grown on Madagascar, Réunion, and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean; V. tahitensis, grown in the South Pacific; and V. pompona, found in the West Indies, and Central and South America. The majority of the world's vanilla is the V. planifolia species, more commonly known as Bourbon vanilla (after the former name of Réunion, Île Bourbon) or Madagascar vanilla, which is produced in Madagascar and neighboring islands in the southwestern Indian Ocean, and in Indonesia.


2014 Top Vanilla Producers
Rank Country Production
(tonnes)
1  Madagascar 3,719
2  Indonesia 2,000
3  Papua New Guinea 510
4  Mexico 420
5  China 286
6  Turkey 280
7  Uganda 218
8  Tonga 186
9  French Polynesia 27
10  Comoros 24
World 7,746
Source:
UN Food & Agriculture Organization
Example of a Vanilla fruit grading system, used in Madagascar
Grade Color Appearance / Feel Approximate
Moisture Content†
Black dark brown to black supple with oily luster > 30%
TK (Brown, or Semi-Black) dark brown to black sometimes with a few red streaks like Black but dryer/stiffer 25 - 30%
Red Fox (European quality) brown with reddish variegation a few blemishes 25%
Red American quality brown with reddish variegation similar to European red but more blemishes and dryer/stiffer 22 - 25%
Cuts short, cut, and often split fruits, typically with substandard aroma and color
Simplified vanilla fruit grading system for cooks
Grade A /
Grade I
15 cm and longer, 100–120 fruits per pound Also called "Gourmet" or "Prime". 30–35% moisture content.
Grade B /
Grade II
10–15 cm, 140–160 fruits per pound Also called "Extract fruits". 15–25% moisture content.
Grade C /
Grade III
10 cm

  • Bourbon vanilla or Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla, produced from V. planifolia plants introduced from the Americas, is the term used for vanilla from Indian Ocean islands such as Madagascar, the Comoros, and Réunion, formerly the Île Bourbon. It is also used to describe the distinctive vanilla flavor derived from V. planifolia grown successfully in tropical countries such as India.
  • Mexican vanilla, made from the native V. 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 food in the US by the Food and Drug Administration since 1954.
  • Tahitian vanilla is the name for vanilla from French Polynesia, made with V. tahitiensis. Genetic analysis shows this species is possibly a cultivar from a hybrid of V. planifolia and V. odorata. The species was introduced by French Admiral François Alphonse Hamelin to French Polynesia from the Philippines, where it was introduced from Guatemala by the Manila Galleon trade.
  • West Indian vanilla is made from V. pompona grown in the Caribbean and Central and South America.
  • Plant height and number of years before producing the first grains
  • Shade necessities
  • Amount of organic matter needed
  • A tree or frame to grow around (bamboo, coconut or Erythrina lanceolata)
  • Labor intensity (pollination and harvest activities)
  • Whole pod
  • Powder (ground pods, kept pure or blended with sugar, starch, or other ingredients)
  • Extract (in alcoholic or occasionally glycerol solution; both pure and imitation forms of vanilla contain at least 35% alcohol)
  • Vanilla sugar, a packaged mix of sugar and vanilla extract
  • Ecott, Tim (2004). Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Luscious Substance. London: Penguin, New York: Grove Atlantic
  • Rain, Patricia (2004). Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World's Favorite Flavor and Fragrance. New York: J. P. Tarcher/Penguin.
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Wikipedia

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