Orchid-lovers know that the vanilla pod, is the only edible fruit-bearing orchid.
Commercial vanilla flavoring is derived from vanilla orchids, (V. planifolia), it is the only
orchid widely used for industrial purposes.
So perhaps we should read about vanilla:
Originally cultivated by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican peoples, Spanish conquistador
Hernán Cortés is credited with introducing both the spice and chocolate to Europe in the
1520s . The genus was established in 1754 by Plumier, based on J. Miller.
Vanilla is a flower. To eat it, this plant has to flower and then be prepared: This process is
Flowers are greenish-yellow, with a diameter of 5 cm (2 in). They last only a day, and must be
pollinated manually, during the morning, if fruit is desired.
Read on: you only have 4-5 hours a year to actually pick this flower. Given an entire plantation to
watch, and not knowing exactly when each flower decides to open, this needs some monitoring….
The plants are self-fertile, and pollination simply requires a transfer of the pollen from the anther to
If pollination does not occur, the flower is dropped the next day.
In the wild, there is less than 1% chance that the flowers will be pollinated,
It was known to the Aztecs for its flavoring qualities - since all orchidflowers are poisonous, and there
are some thousands of variants, one does get almost speechless at the observations of our forefathers:
first you risk poisoning some thousand times and THEN someone discovers vanilla…
3) Don’t oversleep
The ideal time for pollination is between 1 a. m to 6 a.m.
So in order to receive a steady flow of fruit, the flowers must be hand-pollinated when grown on farms.
The blossoms are pollinated by hand using a fine stick or tweezers. Generally one flower per raceme
opens per day and therefore the raceme may be in flowering for over 20 days.
Hvordan: in 1841, a simple and efficient artificial hand pollination method was developed by a 12-
year-old slave named Edmond Albius on Réunion: a method still used today
Hand pollinators can pollinate about 1,000 flowers per day.
if you did not oversleep..
4) After pollination, flowers turn into long light-green odorless capsules similar to fresh bean pods, full
of seeds. To ensure the finest flavor from every bean, each individual pod must be picked by hand just
as it begins to split on the end. Over matured beans are likely to split causing a reduction in market
ok – so look out for this, too
5) Fermentation begins (a euphemism for rotting ): 2-3 weeks
The fresh green pods are blanched (soaked) in hot water, then covered and kept in a warm location
(45-65 grader) for two to three weeks, so that they become soft and black, acquiring an intense
Naturally, this would occur in burning sun on the ground.
6) "sweating" 5-6 weeks
Then the rural producers of Mananara wrap the berries in woolen blankets and store the packets on
the elevated floors of their houses to keep them warm and dry. During this curing period the berries
'sweat' extra moisture and enzymes within the pods liberate vanilla's principal flavor component:
During this key phase, which lasts five or six weeks, the women of Mananara rub each of the vanilla
beans every day with their fingers, cleaning them and rendering them supple and smooth.
8) "conditioning" 6 months slow fermentation. The cured vanilla beans contain an average of 2.5 %
Does it sound simple? Here are some details:
Unfertilized flowers fall within two or three days.
Normally 5 to 6 flowers per inflorescence and a total of not more than 10 to 12 inflorescences per vine
are pollinated. The excess flower buds are nipped off to permit the development of other pods.
Pods take six weeks to attain full size from fertilization but takes 4 to 10 months to reach full maturity
depending upon the locations.
Maintenance of plantation : Once established, the vines have to be given constant attention.
The beans are killed by exposing them to the sun for a period of about five hours on the day after
The fresh beans are spread out on dark blankets resting on a cement patio or on wooden racks, which
is finally covered with matting to form a malleta.
In the afternoon, the beans become too hot to hold by hand and are then covered by the edges of the
In the mid-to late afternoon before the beans have begun to cool, the thick ends of the beans are laid
towards the center of the blanket and rolled up.
The blanket rolls are immediately taken indoors and are placed in blanket-lined, air tight mahogany
boxes to undergo their first ' sweating'.
Blankets and matting are placed over the sweating boxes to prevent loss of heat. After 12 to 24 hours,
the beans are removed and
inspected. Most of the beans will have begun to acquire a dark-brown colour indicating a good 'killing'.
Beans which have retained their original green colour or which have an uneven coloration are
separated and are subjected to oven-wilting.
The malletas are moistened with water and are placed on the shelves in the calorifico. Water is poured
onto the solid floor to maintain a high humidity, the door is closed and the heating fire is lit.
In about 12 hours, the temperature inside the calorifico reaches 60 °C.
After a further 16 hours, a temperature of 70 °C is attained and this is maintained for another 8 hours.
The malletas are removed after a total of 36 hours in the calorifico.
If the temperature cannot be raised above 65 °C, then the total period of autoclaving is extended to 48
On removal from the calorifico, the matting is quickly stripped from the malletas and the blanket
wrapped beans are placed in sweating boxes.
After 24 hours, the beans are removed and inspected.
The killed beans are then subjected to repeated sunnings and sweatings, as described above under
Should the weather be overcast, the killed beans are stored on racks indoors in a well-ventilated room
until sunning is possible.
However, if the weather does not improve within three days, the batch is reprocessed through the
calorifico and sweating box.
one month later ... .
Some 20 to 30 days after killing, most of the beans become very supple and acquire
characteristics close to those of the final product and are ready for the next stage of very slow
Beans removed for conditioning are sorted again and are straightened by drawing them
through the fingers. This operation is also useful in that it spreads the oil, which exudes
during the curing process and gives the beans their characteristic luster.
The beans are next tied into bundles of about fifty with black string. The bundles are wrapped
in waxed paper and are placed in waxed paper lined, metal conditioning boxes.
3 months more ...
Conditioning lasts for at least three months and during this period the beans are regularly
inspected. Mouldy beans are removed for treatment (see later) and those,
which are not developing the required aroma may be re-subjected to 'sunnings
At the end of the conditioning period, the beans are given a final grading and are packed for
Soooooo , after 4-9 months ... a vanillapod is ready to serve... I mean, compared to other fruit or
flowers you can ”pick from the tree/ stalk”: ...
and… like most third-world products, the farmers get virtually nothing for the product, (the
price hikes on later levels)
Since the secret is revealed, perhaps you would consider growing this vine?
Attempts to cultivate the vanilla plant outside Mexico and Central America proved futile
because of the symbiotic relationship between the tlilxochitl vine that produced the vanilla
orchid and the local species of Melipona bee (the only insect in the world that can pollinate
the vanilla –orchid !).
So all you need is some Tlilxochitl and to release some Melipona.....and off you go! ...
;-) (oh yes, almost forgot: … like all orchids, vanilla is a little fickle: vanilla seed will not
germinate without the presence of certain mycorrhizal fungi)
Just cast a thought – next time you enjoy a vanilla ice cream
Others have attempted shortcuts: ..
The 2007 Ig Nobel for Chemistry went to Mayu Yamamoto of the International Medical Center of
Japan, for developing a way to extract vanillin -- vanilla fragrance and flavoring -- from cow
REFERENCE: "Novel Production Method for Plant Polyphenol from Livestock Excrement
Using Subcritical Water Reaction," Mayu Yamamoto, International Medical Center of Japan.
PRESS NOTE: Toscanini's Ice Cream, the finest ice cream shop in Cambridge,
Massachusetts, created a new ice cream flavor in honor of Mayu Yamamoto, and introduced
it at the Ig Nobel ceremony. The flavor is called "Yum-a-Moto Vanilla Twist."
The name vanilla came from the Spanish word "vainilla", diminutive form of "vaina"
(meaning "sheath"), which is in turn derived from Latin "vagina".