Vanilla Beans

Most people could tell you that vanilla comes from a bean, but what kind of plant does that bean grow on? Vanilla beans are derived from the orchid plant of the genus Vanilla. The word vanilla comes from the Spanish word "vaina" which translates to little pod. This vanilla ‘fruit' was originally grown in Mesoamerica, part of which is where Mexico is located today. For many years, attempts were made to spread vanilla production to other countries. The first effort, in 1837, was by a Belgian botanist named Charles François Antoine Morren who found a way to artificially pollinate the vanilla orchids, but this venture turned out to be financially unworkable. In 1841 the second attempt to artificially pollinate vanilla orchids was done by a slave named Edmond Albius who lived on the French island of Réunion, formerly known as Bourbon, in the Indian Ocean. He did this when he discovered that vanilla orchids could be hand pollinated. This opened doors for vanilla production outside of Mexico that otherwise would not be possible. Today, four different types of vanilla are grown around the world, but they can all be traced back to the one original type of Mesoamerican vanilla ‘fruit'.

A long, thin pod that is the fruit of one variety of orchid. Vanilla beans have a sweet, perfumed aroma with a woody or smoky flavor. Pure vanilla is relatively expensive because the growth and harvesting process is labor-intensive and time-consuming. The pods are hand picked and dipped immediately in boiling water to halt their growth. Initially, the vanilla bean has no flavor or aroma. The beans must be cured by heating in the sun and wrapping them to sweat at night for up to 20 days. They are then air dried for 4-6 months to ferment and develop their unique aroma and flavor. The three common types of vanilla beans are: Bourbon-Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian. Bourbon-Madagascar beans are rich, sweet and the thinnest of the three beans. Mexican vanilla beans have a smooth rich flavor. Tahitian vanilla beans are the thickest and darkest, and although very aromatic they are not as flavorful as the other two types.

These whole vanilla beans from Madagascar are some of the finest available, and our stock is always fresh. Scrape out the seeds or dissolve them in liquor for use in baking, dessert sauces or as an aperitif. Try sinking several split beans into a jar of sugar, let stand for several weeks to create vanilla sugar and then use it in baking or simply sprinkle some on fresh berries with cream. Fabulous!

Vanilla is derived from the dried, cured beans or fruit pods of the large, green-stemmed climbing perennial, Vanilla planifolia, which is a member of the orchid family. Although Vanilla beans are sometimes used in their whole form, they are most commonly used for producing extracts and flavors.

People take vanilla to treat intestinal gas and fever. They also use it to increase sexual desire (as an aphrodisiac). In foods and beverages, vanilla is a well-known flavoring, but it is also added to foods to reduce the amount of sugar needed for sweetening. Some people add vanilla to food to help stop tooth decay.