Also known as
Vanilla planifolia, Vanilla, Sweet Bean, and Vanilla Pods.
Vanilla may easily be one of the most well-known flavors in the world. The flavor is derived from the ripened fruit of a tropical orchid, Vanilla planifolia, the only orchid in the world that produces an edible fruit. In the wild, vanilla vines (which attach themselves to living trees) may grow to a length of 80 feet or more. At the time of Cortez' visit to the New World, the conquistador observed the Aztec royalty enjoying a sweet drink of vanilla-scented chocolate. Impressed, he took sacks of vanilla beans back to Europe with him along with the gold and gems of the defeated Aztec empire. For the next few hundred years, attempts to cultivate the vanilla orchid outside Mexico and Central America proved futile, until a 12 year old French slave discovered how to hand-pollinate the plant in 1841. Even so, the bulk of the world's supply of vanilla today is provided by only a handful of countries (primarily Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti), and the process of producing its precious fruit the world's costliest spice after saffron and it is a lengthy and painstaking one. Vanilla orchids bloom only for a day or less, and during that time they must be hand-pollinated. Even after the plant has produced its pods, they must be checked daily because each pod ripens at a different rate and must be harvested before it fully opens or the taste will be ruined. After harvest, the pods go through an elaborate process of being killed, sweated, dried, and conditioned in order to maximize the vanilla flavor and fragrance.
Vanillin, and about 130 other substances, including phenols, esters, acid, carbohydrates, alcohol
The ripe and fermented fruit (pod), also called the bean, is used whole, powdered, or steeped in alcohol to create vanilla extract. Whole beans can also be placed in sugar to make a vanilla-flavored sugar.
The whole bean may be used in food, tea, and cosmetics, and is abundantly found as a liquid flavoring extract in a base of alcohol.
The mythology of the pre-Columbian Totonac tribe (who resided in what is now Mexico) refers to vanilla as an aphrodisiac, and it is still used for that purpose in aromatherapy today. Vanilla's sweet, bland flavor is one of the most popular the world over, and while it is considered "plain", it is really a complex layering of sweet and spicy flavors that have been used for centuries to flavor everything from chocolate to milk. Today, the US is the world's leading importer and consumer or vanilla beans. While vanilla extract is widely used as a flavoring, many gourmet chefs insist that true vanilla flavor can only be derived from the pod itself. In addition to its use as a food flavoring, vanilla is used to scent everything from perfumes to candles and lotions. It is also used in medicine as a flavoring and to improve the appetite, and was at one time credited as a fever reducer although that has failed to stand up to scientific scrutiny.
For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.