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 vainilla, 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
Pollination is required to set the vanilla 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-pollination allowed global cultivation of the
Vanilla Tahitensis in cultivation
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. Combined,
two-thirds of the world's supply of vanilla.
Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron because
growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive. Despite the
expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavor. As a result,
vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume
manufacture, and aromatherapy.
4.1 Propagation, preparation and type of stock
4.2 Tissue culture
4.3 Scheduling considerations
4.5 Pest and disease management
4.6 Artificial vanilla
4.7 Nonplant vanilla flavoring
6.1 Culinary uses
7 Contact dermatitis
10 Further reading
11 External links
Drawing of the
Vanilla plant from the
Florentine Codex (circa 1580)
and description of its use and properties written in the Nahuatl
According to popular belief, the
Totonac people, who inhabit the east
Mexico in the present-day state of Veracruz, were the first
to cultivate vanilla. According to
Totonac mythology, the tropical
orchid was born when Princess Xanat, forbidden by her father from
marrying a mortal, fled to the forest with her lover. The lovers were
captured and beheaded. Where their blood touched the ground, the vine
of the tropical orchid grew. In the 15th century,
from the central highlands of
Mexico conquered the Totonacs, and soon
developed a taste for the vanilla pods. They named the fruit
tlilxochitl, or "black flower", after the matured fruit, which
shrivels and turns black shortly after it is picked. Subjugated by the
Aztecs, the Totonacs paid tribute by sending vanilla fruit to the
Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.
Until the mid-19th century,
Mexico was the chief producer of
vanilla. In 1819, French entrepreneurs shipped vanilla fruits to
the islands of
Mauritius in hopes of producing vanilla
Edmond Albius discovered how to pollinate the flowers
quickly by hand, the pods began to thrive. Soon, the tropical orchids
were sent from
Réunion to the
Comoros Islands, Seychelles, and
Madagascar, along with instructions for pollinating them. By 1898,
Madagascar, Réunion, and the
Comoros Islands produced 200 metric tons
of vanilla beans, about 80% of world production. According to the
United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation,
currently responsible for the vast majority of the world's Bourbon
vanilla production and 58% of the world total vanilla fruit
The market price of vanilla rose dramatically in the late 1970s after
a tropical cyclone ravaged key croplands. Prices remained high through
the early 1980s despite the introduction of Indonesian vanilla. In the
mid-1980s, the cartel that had controlled vanilla prices and
distribution since its creation in 1930 disbanded. Prices dropped
70% over the next few years, to nearly US$20 per kilogram; prices rose
sharply again after tropical cyclone Hudah struck
Madagascar in April
2000. The cyclone, political instability, and poor weather in the
third year drove vanilla prices to an astonishing US$500/kg in 2004,
bringing new countries into the vanilla industry. A good crop, coupled
with decreased demand caused by the production of imitation vanilla,
pushed the market price down to the $40/kg range in the middle of
2005. By 2010, prices were down to $20/kg.
Cyclone Enawo caused in
similar spike to $500/kg in 2017.
Madagascar (especially the fertile Sava region) accounts for much of
the global production of vanilla. Mexico, once the leading producer of
natural vanilla with an annual yield of 500 tons of cured beans,
produced only 10 tons in 2006. An estimated 95% of "vanilla"
products are artificially flavored with vanillin derived from lignin
instead of vanilla fruits.
Vanilla was completely unknown in the
Old World before Cortés.
Spanish explorers arriving on the Gulf Coast of
Mexico in the early
16th century gave vanilla its current name. Spanish and Portuguese
sailors and explorers brought vanilla into Africa and Asia later that
century. They called it vainilla, or "little pod". The word vanilla
entered the English language in 1754, when the botanist Philip Miller
wrote about the genus in his Gardener’s Dictionary. Vainilla is
from the diminutive of vaina, from the Latin vagina (sheath) to
describe the shape of the pods.
Vanilla extract displays its distinctive color
V. planifolia – flower
The main species harvested for vanilla is V. planifolia. Although it
is native to Mexico, it is now widely grown throughout the tropics.
Madagascar are the world's largest producers. Additional
sources include V. pompona and V. tahitiensis (grown in
Tahiti), although the vanillin content of these species is much less
than V. planifolia.
Vanilla grows as a vine, climbing up an existing tree (also called a
tutor), pole, or other support. It can be grown in a wood (on trees),
in a plantation (on trees or poles), or in a "shader", in increasing
orders of productivity. Its growth environment is referred to as its
terroir, and includes not only the adjacent plants, but also the
climate, geography, and local geology. Left alone, it will grow as
high as possible on the support, with few flowers. Every year, growers
fold the higher parts of the plant downward so the plant stays at
heights accessible by a standing human. This also greatly stimulates
The distinctively flavored compounds are found in the fruit, which
results from the pollination of the flower. These seed pods are
roughly a third of an inch by six inches, and brownish red to black
when ripe. Inside of these pods is an oily liquid full of tiny
seeds. One flower produces one fruit. V. planifolia flowers are
hermaphroditic: they carry both male (anther) and female (stigma)
organs. However, self-pollination is blocked by a membrane which
separates those organs. The flowers can be naturally pollinated by
bees of genus
Melipona (abeja de monte or mountain bee), by bee genus
Eulaema, or by hummingbirds. The
Melipona bee provided Mexico
with a 300-year-long advantage on vanilla production from the time it
was first discovered by Europeans. The first vanilla orchid to flower
in Europe was in the London collection of the Honourable Charles
Greville in 1806. Cuttings from that plant went to Netherlands and
Paris, from which the French first transplanted the vines to their
overseas colonies. The vines grew, but would not fruit outside Mexico.
Growers tried to bring this bee into other growing locales, to no
avail. The only way to produce fruits without the bees is artificial
pollination. Today, even in Mexico, hand pollination is used
In 1836, botanist
Charles François Antoine Morren
Charles François Antoine Morren was drinking coffee
on a patio in Papantla (in Veracruz, Mexico) and noticed black bees
flying around the vanilla flowers next to his table. He watched their
actions closely as they would land and work their way under a flap
inside the flower, transferring pollen in the process. Within hours,
the flowers closed and several days later, Morren noticed vanilla pods
beginning to form. Morren immediately began experimenting with hand
pollination. A few years later in 1841, a simple and efficient
artificial hand-pollination method was developed by a 12-year-old
Edmond Albius on Réunion, a method still used today.
Using a beveled sliver of bamboo, an agricultural worker lifts the
membrane separating the anther and the stigma, then, using the thumb,
transfers the pollinia from the anther to the stigma. The flower,
self-pollinated, will then produce a fruit. The vanilla flower lasts
about one day, sometimes less, so growers have to inspect their
plantations every day for open flowers, a labor-intensive task.
The fruit, a seed capsule, if left on the plant, ripens and opens at
the end; as it dries, the phenolic compounds crystallize, giving the
fruits a diamond-dusted appearance, which the French call givre
(hoarfrost). It then releases the distinctive vanilla smell. The fruit
contains tiny, black seeds. In dishes prepared with whole natural
vanilla, these seeds are recognizable as black specks. Both the pod
and the seeds are used in cooking.
Like other orchids' seeds, vanilla seeds will not germinate without
the presence of certain mycorrhizal fungi. Instead, growers reproduce
the plant by cutting: they remove sections of the vine with six or
more leaf nodes, a root opposite each leaf. The two lower leaves are
removed, and this area is buried in loose soil at the base of a
support. The remaining upper roots cling to the support, and often
grow down into the soil. Growth is rapid under good conditions.
A bottle of vanilla extract
Bourbon vanilla or Bourbon-
Madagascar vanilla, produced from V.
planifolia plants introduced from the Americas, is from Indian Ocean
islands such as Madagascar, the Comoros, and Réunion, formerly named
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
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 the toxin coumarin.
Tonka bean extract smells and
tastes like vanilla, but coumarin has been shown to cause liver damage
in lab animals and has been banned in food in the US by the Food and
Drug Administration since 1954.
Tahitian vanilla is 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
François Alphonse Hamelin
François Alphonse Hamelin to
French Polynesia from the
Philippines, where it was introduced from
Guatemala by the Manila
West Indian vanilla is made from V. pompona grown in the
Central and South America.
The term French vanilla is often used to designate particular
preparations with a strong vanilla aroma, containing vanilla grains
and sometimes also containing eggs (especially egg yolks). The
appellation originates from the French style of making vanilla ice
cream with a custard base, using vanilla pods, cream, and egg yolks.
Inclusion of vanilla varietals from any of the former French
dependencies or overseas France may be a part of the flavoring.
Alternatively, French vanilla is taken to refer to a vanilla-custard
Chemical structure of vanillin
Main article: Vanillin
Vanilla essence occurs in two forms. Real seedpod extract is a complex
mixture of several hundred different compounds, including vanillin,
acetaldehyde, acetic acid, furfural, hexanoic acid,
4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, eugenol, methyl cinnamate, and isobutyric
acid. Synthetic essence consists of a solution of
synthetic vanillin in ethanol. The chemical compound vanillin
(4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde) is a major contributor to the
characteristic flavor and aroma of real vanilla and is the main flavor
component of cured vanilla beans.
Vanillin was first isolated from
vanilla pods by Gobley in 1858. By 1874, it had been obtained from
glycosides of pine tree sap, temporarily causing a depression in the
natural vanilla industry.
Vanillin can be easily synthesized from
various raw materials, but the majority of food-grade (> 99% pure)
vanillin is made from guaiacol.
In general, quality vanilla only comes from good vines and through
careful production methods. Commercial vanilla production can be
performed under open field and "greenhouse" operations. The two
production systems share these similarities:
Plant height and number of years before producing the first grains
Amount of organic matter needed
A tree or frame to grow around (bamboo, coconut or Erythrina
Labor intensity (pollination and harvest activities)
Vanilla grows best in a hot, humid climate from sea level to an
elevation of 1,500 m. The ideal climate has moderate rainfall,
1,500–3,000 mm, evenly distributed through 10 months of the
year. Optimum temperatures for cultivation are 15–30 °C
(59–86 °F) during the day and 15–20 °C
(59–68 °F) during the night. Ideal humidity is around 80%, and
under normal greenhouse conditions, it can be achieved by an
evaporative cooler. However, since greenhouse vanilla is grown near
the equator and under polymer (HDPE) netting (shading of 50%), this
humidity can be achieved by the environment. Most successful vanilla
growing and processing is done in the region within 10 to 20° of the
Soils for vanilla cultivation should be loose, with high organic
matter content and loamy texture. They must be well drained, and a
slight slope helps in this condition. Soil pH has not been well
documented, but some researchers have indicated an optimum soil pH
Mulch is very important for proper growth of the vine,
and a considerable portion of mulch should be placed in the base of
the vine. Fertilization varies with soil conditions, but general
recommendations are: 40 to 60 g of N, 20 to 30 g of P2O5 and 60 to 100
g of K2O should be applied to each plant per year besides organic
manures, such as vermicompost, oil cakes, poultry manure, and wood
ash. Foliar applications are also good for vanilla, and a solution of
1% NPK (17:17:17) can be sprayed on the plant once a month. Vanilla
requires organic matter, so three or four applications of mulch a year
are adequate for the plant.
Propagation, preparation and type of stock
Dissemination of vanilla can be achieved either by stem cutting or by
tissue culture. For stem cutting, a progeny garden needs to be
established. All plants need to grow under 50% shade, as well as the
rest of the crop. Mulching the trenches with coconut husk and micro
irrigation provide an ideal microclimate for vegetative growth.
Cuttings between 60 and 120 cm (24 and 47 in) should be
selected for planting in the field or greenhouse. Cuttings below 60 to
120 cm (24 to 47 in) need to be rooted and raised in a
separate nursery before planting. Planting material should always come
from unflowered portions of the vine. Wilting of the cuttings before
planting provides better conditions for root initiation and
Before planting the cuttings, trees to support the vine must be
planted at least three months before sowing the cuttings. Pits of 30
× 30 × 30 cm are dug 30 cm (12 in) away from the tree
and filled with farm yard manure (vermicompost), sand and top soil
mixed well. An average of 2000 cuttings can be planted per hectare
(2.5 acres). One important consideration is that when planting the
cuttings from the base, four leaves should be pruned and the pruned
basal point must be pressed into the soil in a way such that the nodes
are in close contact with the soil, and are placed at a depth of 15 to
20 cm (5.9 to 7.9 in). The top portion of the cutting is
tied to the tree using natural fibers such as banana or hemp.
Tissue culture was first used as a means of creating vanilla plants
during the 1980s at Tamil Nadu University. This was the part of the
first project to grow V. planifolia in India. At that time, a shortage
of vanilla planting stock was occurring in India. The approach was
inspired by the work going on to tissue culture other flowering
plants. Several methods have been proposed for vanilla tissue culture,
but all of them begin from axillary buds of the vanilla vine.
In vitro multiplication has also been achieved through culture of
callus masses, protocorns, root tips and stem nodes. Description
of any of these processes can be obtained from the references listed
before, but all of them are successful in generation of new vanilla
plants that first need to be grown up to a height of at least
30 cm (12 in) before they can be planted in the field or
In the tropics, the ideal time for planting vanilla is from September
to November, when the weather is neither too rainy nor too dry, but
this recommendation varies with growing conditions. Cuttings take one
to eight weeks to establish roots, and show initial signs of growth
from one of the leaf axils. A thick mulch of leaves should be provided
immediately after planting as an additional source of organic matter.
Three years are required for cuttings to grow enough to produce
flowers and subsequent pods. As with most orchids, the blossoms grow
along stems branching from the main vine. The buds, growing along the
6 to 10 in (15 to 25 cm) stems, bloom and mature in
sequence, each at a different interval.
Vanilla Planifolia Flowers, YouTube video
Flowering normally occurs every spring, and without pollination, the
blossom wilts and falls, and no vanilla bean can grow. Each flower
must be hand-pollinated within 12 hours of opening. In the wild, very
few natural pollinators exist, with most pollination thought to be
carried out by the shiny green Euglossa viridissima, some
and other species of the euglossine or orchid bees, Euglossini, though
direct evidence is lacking. Closely related
Vanilla species are known
to be pollinated by the euglossine bees. The previously suggested
pollination by stingless bees of the genus
Melipona is thought to be
improbable, as they are too small to be effective and have never been
Vanilla pollen or pollinating other orchids, though
they do visit the flowers. These pollinators do not exist outside
the orchid's home range, and even within that range, vanilla orchids
have only a 1% chance of successful pollination. As a result, all
vanilla grown today is pollinated by hand. A small splinter of wood or
a grass stem is used to lift the rostellum or move the flap upward, so
the overhanging anther can be pressed against the stigma and
self-pollinate the vine. Generally, one flower per raceme opens per
day, so the raceme may be in flower for over 20 days. A healthy vine
should produce about 50 to 100 beans per year, but growers are careful
to pollinate only five or six flowers from the 20 on each raceme. The
first flowers that open per vine should be pollinated, so the beans
are similar in age. These agronomic practices facilitate harvest and
increases bean quality. The fruits require five to six weeks to
develop, but around six months to mature. Over-pollination results in
diseases and inferior bean quality. A vine remains productive
between 12 and 14 years.
Pest and disease management
Most diseases come from the uncharacteristic growing conditions of
vanilla. Therefore, conditions such as excess water, insufficient
drainage, heavy mulch, overpollination, and too much shade favor
Vanilla is susceptible to many fungal and viral
diseases. Fusarium, Sclerotium, Phytophthora, and Colletrotrichum
species cause rots of root, stem, leaf, bean, and shoot apex. These
diseases can be controlled by spraying
Bordeaux mixture (1%),
carbendazim (0.2%) and copper oxychloride (0.2%).
Biological control of the spread of such diseases can be managed by
applying to the soil
Trichoderma (0.5 kg (1.1 lb) per plant
in the rhizosphere) and foliar application of pseudomonads (0.2%).
Mosaic virus, leaf curl, and cymbidium mosaic potex virus are the
common viral diseases. These diseases are transmitted through the sap,
so affected plants must be destroyed. The insect pests of vanilla
include beetles and weevils that attack the flower, caterpillars,
snakes, and slugs that damage the tender parts of shoot, flower buds,
and immature fruit, and grasshoppers that affect cutting shoot
tips. If organic agriculture is practiced, insecticides are
avoided, and mechanical measures are adopted for pest management.
Most of these practices are implemented under greenhouse cultivation,
since such field conditions are very difficult to achieve.
Most artificial vanilla products contain vanillin, which can be
produced synthetically from lignin, a natural polymer found in wood.
Most synthetic vanillin is a byproduct from the pulp used in
papermaking, in which the lignin is broken down using sulfites or
sulfates. However, vanillin is only one of 171 identified aromatic
components of real vanilla fruits.
The orchid species
Leptotes bicolor is used as a natural vanilla
replacement in Paraguay and southern Brazil.
Nonplant vanilla flavoring
In the United States, castoreum, the exudate from the castor sacs of
mature beavers, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration
as a food additive, often referenced simply as a "natural
flavoring" in the product's list of ingredients. It is used in both
food and beverages, especially as vanilla and raspberry flavoring,
with a total annual U.S. production of less than 300 pounds.
It is also used to flavor some cigarettes and in perfume-making, and
is used by fur trappers as a scent lure.
A vanilla plantation in a forest of
Harvesting vanilla fruits is as labor-intensive as pollinating the
blossoms. Immature, dark green pods are not harvested. Pale yellow
discoloration that commences at the distal end of the fruits is not a
good indication of the maturity of pods. Each fruit ripens at its own
time, requiring a daily harvest. "Current methods for determining the
maturity of vanilla (
Vanilla planifolia Andrews) beans are unreliable.
Yellowing at the blossom end, the current index, occurs before beans
accumulate maximum glucovanillin concentrations. Beans left on the
vine until they turn brown have higher glucovanillin concentrations
but may split and have low quality. Judging bean maturity is difficult
as they reach full size soon after pollination. Glucovanillin
accumulates from 20 weeks, maximum about 40 weeks after pollination.
Mature green beans have 20% dry matter but less than 2%
glucovanillin." The accumulation of dry matter and glucovanillin
are highly correlated.To ensure the finest flavor from every fruit,
each individual pod must be picked by hand just as it begins to split
on the end. Overmatured fruits are likely to split, causing a
reduction in market value. Its commercial value is fixed based on the
length and appearance of the pod.
If the fruit is more than 15 cm (5.9 in) in length, it is
categorized as first-quality. The largest fruits greater than
16 cm and up to as much as 21 cm are usually reserved for
the gourmet vanilla market, for sale to top chefs and restaurants. If
the fruits are between 10 and 15 cm long, pods are under the
second-quality category, and fruits less than 10 cm in length are
under the third-quality category. Each fruit contains thousands of
tiny black vanilla seeds.
Vanilla fruit yield depends on the care and
management given to the hanging and fruiting vines. Any practice
directed to stimulate aerial root production has a direct effect on
vine productivity. A five-year-old vine can produce between 1.5 and
3 kg (3.3 and 6.6 lb) pods, and this production can increase
up to 6 kg (13 lb) after a few years. The harvested green
fruit can be commercialized as such or cured to get a better market
Several methods exist in the market for curing vanilla; nevertheless,
all of them consist of four basic steps: killing, sweating,
slow-drying, and conditioning of the beans.
The vegetative tissue of the vanilla pod is killed to stop the
vegetative growth of the pods and disrupt the cells and tissue of the
fruits, which initiates enzymatic reactions responsible for the aroma.
The method of killing varies, but may be accomplished by heating in
hot water, freezing, or scratching, or killing by heating in an oven
or exposing the beans to direct sunlight. The different methods give
different profiles of enzymatic activity.
Testing has shown mechanical disruption of fruit tissues can cause
curing processes, including the degeneration of glucovanillin to
vanillin, so the reasoning goes that disrupting the tissues and cells
of the fruit allow enzymes and enzyme substrates to interact.
Hot-water killing may consist of dipping the pods in hot water
(63–65 °C (145–149 °F)) for three minutes, or at
80 °C (176 °F) for 10 seconds. In scratch killing, fruits
are scratched along their length. Frozen or quick-frozen fruits
must be thawed again for the subsequent sweating stage. Tied in
bundles and rolled in blankets, fruits may be placed in an oven at
60 °C (140 °F) for 36 to 48 hours. Exposing the fruits to
sunlight until they turn brown, a method originating in Mexico, was
practiced by the Aztecs.
Sweating is a hydrolytic and oxidative process. Traditionally, it
consists of keeping fruits, for 7 to 10 days, densely stacked and
insulated in wool or other cloth. This retains a temperature of
45–65 °C (113–149 °F) and high humidity. Daily
exposure to the sun may also be used, or dipping the fruits in hot
water. The fruits are brown and have attained much of the
characteristic vanilla flavor and aroma by the end of this process,
but still retain a 60-70% moisture content by weight.
Reduction of the beans to 25–30% moisture by weight, to prevent
rotting and to lock the aroma in the pods, is always achieved by some
exposure of the beans to air, and usually (and traditionally)
intermittent shade and sunlight. Fruits may be laid out in the sun
during the mornings and returned to their boxes in the afternoons, or
spread on a wooden rack in a room for three to four weeks, sometimes
with periods of sun exposure. Drying is the most problematic of the
curing stages; unevenness in the drying process can lead to the loss
of vanillin content of some fruits by the time the others are
Grading vanilla beans at Sambava, Madagascar
Conditioning is performed by storing the pods for five to six months
in closed boxes, where the fragrance develops. The processed fruits
are sorted, graded, bundled, and wrapped in paraffin paper and
preserved for the development of desired bean qualities, especially
flavor and aroma. The cured vanilla fruits contain an average of 2.5%
See also: Food grading
Once fully cured, the vanilla fruits are sorted by quality and graded.
Several vanilla fruit grading systems are in use. Each country which
produces vanilla has its own grading system, and individual
vendors, in turn, sometimes use their own criteria for describing the
quality of the fruits they offer for sale. In general, vanilla
fruit grade is based on the length, appearance (color, sheen, presence
of any splits, presence of blemishes), and moisture content of the
fruit. Whole, dark, plump and oily pods that are visually
attractive, with no blemishes, and that have a higher moisture content
are graded most highly. Such pods are particularly prized by chefs
for their appearance and can be featured in gourmet dishes. Beans
that show localized signs of disease or other physical defects are cut
to remove the blemishes; the shorter fragments left are called "cuts"
and are assigned lower grades, as are fruits with lower moisture
contents. Lower-grade fruits tend to be favored for uses in which
the appearance is not as important, such as in the production of
vanilla flavoring extract and in the fragrance industry.
Higher-grade fruits command higher prices in the market.
However, because grade is so dependent on visual appearance and
moisture content, fruits with the highest grade do not necessarily
contain the highest concentration of characteristic flavor molecules
such as vanillin, and are not necessarily the most flavorful.
Example of a
Vanilla fruit grading system, used in
Appearance / feel
dark brown to black
supple with oily luster
TK (Brown, or Semi-Black)
dark brown to black sometimes with a few red streaks
like Black but dryer/stiffer
Red Fox (European quality)
brown with reddish variegation
a few blemishes
Red American quality
brown with reddish variegation
similar to European red but more blemishes and dryer/stiffer
short, cut, and often split fruits, typically with substandard aroma
† moisture content varies among sources cited
A simplified, alternative grading system has been proposed for
classifying vanilla fruits suitable for use in cooking:
Simplified vanilla fruit grading system for cooks
Grade A /
15 cm and longer, 100–120 fruits per pound
Also called "Gourmet" or "Prime". 30–35% moisture content.
Grade B /
10–15 cm, 140–160 fruits per pound
Also called "Extract fruits". 15–25% moisture content.
Grade C /
Under this scheme, vanilla extract is normally made from Grade B
Vanilla production - 2016
Papua New Guinea
In 2016, world production of vanilla was 7,940 tonnes, led by
Madagascar with 37% of the total, and
Indonesia with 29% (table). Due
to drought, cyclones, and poor farming practices in Madagascar, there
are concerns about the global supply and costs of vanilla in 2017 and
Vanilla rum, Madagascar
The four main commercial preparations of natural vanilla are:
Powder (ground pods, kept pure or blended with sugar, starch, or other
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
Pure vanilla powder
Vanilla flavoring in food may be achieved by adding vanilla extract or
by cooking vanilla pods in the liquid preparation. A stronger aroma
may be attained if the pods are split in two, exposing more of a pod's
surface area to the liquid. In this case, the pods' seeds are mixed
into the preparation. Natural vanilla gives a brown or yellow color to
preparations, depending on the concentration. Good-quality vanilla has
a strong, aromatic flavor, but food with small amounts of low-quality
vanilla or artificial vanilla-like flavorings are far more common,
since true vanilla is much more expensive.
Regarded as the world's most popular aroma and flavor, vanilla is
a widely used aroma and flavor compound for foods, beverages and
cosmetics, as indicated by its popularity as an ice cream flavor.
Although vanilla is a prized flavoring agent on its own, it is also
used to enhance the flavor of other substances, to which its own
flavor is often complementary, such as chocolate, custard, caramel,
coffee, and others.
Vanilla is a common ingredient in Western sweet
baked goods, such as cookies and cakes.
The food industry uses methyl and ethyl vanillin as less-expensive
substitutes for real vanilla. Ethyl vanillin is more expensive, but
has a stronger note.
Cook's Illustrated ran several taste tests
pitting vanilla against vanillin in baked goods and other
applications, and to the consternation of the magazine editors,
tasters could not differentiate the flavor of vanillin from
vanilla; however, for the case of vanilla ice cream, natural
vanilla won out. A more recent and thorough test by the same group
produced a more interesting variety of results; namely, high-quality
artificial vanilla flavoring is best for cookies, while high-quality
real vanilla is slightly better for cakes and significantly better for
unheated or lightly heated foods. The liquid extracted from
vanilla pods was once believed to have medical properties, helping
with various stomach ailments.
Illustration of allergic contact dermatitis
When propagating vanilla orchids from cuttings or harvesting ripe
vanilla beans, care must be taken to avoid contact with the sap from
the plant's stems. The sap of most species of
Vanilla orchid which
exudes from cut stems or where beans are harvested can cause moderate
to severe dermatitis if it comes in contact with bare skin. Washing
the affected area with warm soapy water will effectively remove the
sap in cases of accidental contact with the skin. The sap of vanilla
Calcium oxalate crystals, which appear to be the main
causative agent of contact dermatitis in vanilla plantation
A vanilla planting in an open field on Réunion
A vanilla planting in a "shader" (ombrière) on Réunion
^ James D. Ackerman (June 2003). "Vanilla". Flora of South America. 26
(4): 507. Archived from the original on 29 February 2008. Retrieved 22
July 2008. Spanish vainilla, little pod or capsule, referring to long,
Herb Society of Nashville. "The Life of Spice". The
of Nashville. Archived from the original on 20 September 2011.
Following Montezuma’s capture, one of Cortés' officers saw him
drinking "chocolatl" (made of powdered cocoa beans and ground corn
flavored with ground vanilla pods and honey). The Spanish tried this
drink themselves and were so impressed by this new taste sensation
that they took samples back to Spain.' and 'Actually it was vanilla
rather than the chocolate that made a bigger hit and by 1700 the use
of vanilla was spread over all of Europe.
Mexico became the leading
producer of vanilla for three centuries. – Excerpted from 'Spices of
the World Cookbook' by McCormick and 'The Book of Spices' by Frederic
^ Morren, C. (1837) "Note sur la première fructification du Vanillier
en Europe" (Note on the first fruiting of vanilla in Europe), Annales
de la Société Royale d'Horticulture de Paris, 20 : 331–334.
Morren describes the process of artificially pollinating vanilla on p.
333: "En effet, aucun fruit n'a été produit que sur les
cinquante-quatre fleurs auxquelles j'avais artificiellement
communiqué le pollen. On enlève le tablier ou on le soulève, et on
met en contact avec le stigmate une mass pollinique entière, ou
seulement une partie de cette masse, car une seule de celles-ci,
coupée en huit ou dix pièces, peut féconder autant de fleurs." (In
effect, fruit has been produced only on fifty-four flowers to which I
artificially communicated pollen. One removes the labellum or one
raises it, and one places in contact with the stigma a complete mass
of pollen [i.e., pollinium], or just a part of that mass, for just one
of these, cut into eight or ten pieces, can fertilize as many
flowers.) Available on-line at: Hortalia.org
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2008. In 1837 the Belgian botanist Morren succeeded in artificially
pollinating the vanilla flower. On Reunion, Morren's process was
attempted, but failed. It was not until 1841 that a 12-year-old slave
by the name of
Edmond Albius discovered the correct technique of
hand-pollinating the flowers.
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Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vanilla.
Wikispecies has information related to Vanilla
Wikibooks Cookbook has a recipe/module on
Look up vanilla in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
"Vanilla". Encyclopedia Americana. 1920.
Vanilla planifolia (vanilla)
History, Classification and Lifecycle of
Spices at UCLA History &
Vanilla and Extracts at Curlie (based on DMOZ)
"The Present State of the West-Indies: Containing an Accurate
Description of What Parts Are Possessed by the Several Powers in
Europe" by Thomas Kitchin, 1778, in which Kitchin discusses vanilla
Culinary herbs and spices
Indian bay leaf (tejpat)
garlic / Chinese
Coriander leaf / Cilantro
Vietnamese (rau răm)
Houttuynia cordata (giấp cá)
Kinh gioi (Vietnamese balm)
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Amchoor (mango powder)
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Allyl isothiocyanate (mustard, radish, horseradish, wasabi)
CR gas (dibenzoxazepine; DBO)
CS gas (2-chlorobenzal malononitrile)
Farnesyl thiosalicylic acid
Ligustilide (celery, Angelica acutiloba)
Linalool (Sichuan pepper, thyme)
Methyl salicylate (wintergreen)
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Polygodial (Dorrigo pepper)
Shogaols (ginger, Sichuan and melegueta peppers)
Thiopropanal S-oxide (onion)
Umbellulone (Umbellularia californica)
Adhyperforin (St John's wort)
Hyperforin (St John's wort)
Cooling Agent 10
Rutamarin (Ruta graveolens)
Steviol glycosides (e.g., stevioside) (Stevia rebaudiana)
Sweet tastants (e.g., glucose, fructose, sucrose; indirectly)
Rutamarin (Ruta graveolens)
Triptolide (Tripterygium wilfordii)
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Bisandrographolide (Andrographis paniculata)
Camphor (camphor laurel, rosemary, camphorweed, African blue basil,
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Carvacrol (oregano, thyme, pepperwort, wild bergamot, others)
Dihydrocapsaicin (chili pepper)
Eugenol (basil, clove)
Evodiamine (Euodia ruticarpa)
Homocapsaicin (chili pepper)
Homodihydrocapsaicin (chili pepper)
Low pH (acidic conditions)
Nonivamide (PAVA) (PAVA spray)
Nordihydrocapsaicin (chili pepper)
Paclitaxel (Pacific yew)
Phorbol esters (e.g., 4α-PDD)
Piperine (black pepper, long pepper)
Polygodial (Dorrigo pepper)
Rutamarin (Ruta graveolens)
Resiniferatoxin (RTX) (Euphorbia resinifera/pooissonii)
Shogaols (ginger, Sichuan and melegueta peppers)
Thymol (thyme, oregano)
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See also: Receptor/signaling modulators • Ion channel modulators