Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia)

Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) is a species of vanilla orchid, native to Mexico. It is also known as Flat-leaved Vanilla, West Indian Vanilla and Tahitian Vanilla. Vanilla has high vanillin content, and is one of the primary sources for vanilla flavoring.

Vanilla planifolia is grown in Central America and the West Indies, where the tropical climate is hot and wet. It is harvested mostly in Mexico and Madagascar. Vanilla planifolia is a vine, and uses its fleshy roots to support itself as it grows. It bears greenish-yellow flowers which only last for a day. The plants are self-sterile and pollination is a simple transfer of pollen from the anther to the stigma. The flowers must be hand-pollinated in the morning, if fruits are desired. Farm-grown Vanilla planifolia must be hand-pollinated in order to receive a steady flow of fruit.

Vanilla beans or pods are produced only on mature vanilla plants. Mature plants are generally over 3 meters long and the beans are 15-23 cm long. Vanilla beans take about five months to mature, at which they are harvested and cured. Curing ferments and dried the beans while minimizing the loss of essential oils.

Vanilla extract is a solution containing the flavor of the compound vanillin. Pure vanilla extract is produced by macerating/percolating vanilla beans in a solution of ethyl alcohol and water. In the United States, pure vanilla extract must contains a minimum of 35% alcohol and 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon.

Natural vanilla flavoring is obtained from real vanilla beans with little to no alcohol. The maximum amount found is usually around 2% -3%. Imitation vanilla extract is made by soaking alcohol into wood, which contains vanillin. Vanillin is chemically treated to mimic the taste of vanilla.

Flowers of Vanilla planifoliaFlowers of Vanilla planifolia
Author: Michael Doss (Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)

Vanilla planifoliaVanilla planifolia
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Unmature vanilla beansUnmature vanilla beans
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Dried vanilla beansDried vanilla beans
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Pure vanilla extractPure vanilla extract
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Grading vanilla beansGrading vanilla beans
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Pure vanilla powderPure vanilla powder
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