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Vanilla

Vanilla is a spice that is extracted from the fermented pods of different orchid types of the genus Vanilla. The evergreen climber reaches a length of 10-15 meters after five years.

History

The vanilla plant is native to Mexico and Central America. Particularly due to its aromatic ingredient Vanillin, the vanilla plant was already known among the Mexican natives, the Aztecs, who called it tlilxochitl (= black flower). The Spaniards discovered the vanilla in 1519 and for a long time they had a monopoly on it. At that time, vanilla was worth its weight in gold.

For a long time all attempts to grow and breed vanilla outside of Mexico failed since special types of bees or hummingbirds, native to Mexico and Central America, were doing the pollination. In countries without these specific pollinators, humans must take over their work. On plantations, vanilla is always hand-pollinated, because it helps to produce a larger number of vanilla pods. It was only in 1837 that the Belgian botanist Charles Morren was able to explain the reproductive mechanisms of the vanilla and realize an artificial pollination in a greenhouse. Almost at the same time, in the year 1841, Edmond Albius, a plantation slave, also managed to pollinate a flower artificially – people say he eventually got back his liberty for these efforts.

Cultivation

True vanilla is expensive and sought-after. On one hand, the global harvest of approx. 1,000 tons is far from covering the annual demand for vanilla. On the other hand, cultivation, care, pollination as well as the fermentation process, are labor-intensive and time-consuming. Many orchids, for example, need a special “symbiotic” fungus on their roots for their growth. Being a climber, vanilla grows on sticks or trees and needs the fungus to aid in acquiring water and nutrients from the soil.  
The labor-intensive artificial pollinating is usually done with a stick from a plant, such as a cactus spike or a bamboo stick, and needs skill and experience. Shortly before they are ripe, the yellow-green up to 30 cm long vanilla beans are harvested. The beans then have to be blanched and afterwards dried in the sun for weeks before they are finally put in wooden boxes to mature completely and to develop their characteristic flavor. Only through this drying and fermentation process, the special vanilla aroma can be obtained and the fruit capsules shrink and become the black-brown shiny vanilla pods we all know.

Usage

 Undoubtedly, vanilla is the queen of spices. Its unique flavor is a composition of more than 200 different natural flavoring substances. Vanilla acts in a mild but effective manner. It helps the body to regain its balance relaxing when stressed and energizing when tired. It also stimulates digestion and supports the production of bile, which helps to digest sweet and fatty foods – a reason why many people chose it precisely for such meals.

Store it in a cool dark place!

You can find pictures on the processing of vanilla in our gallery.