Flavour Guide: History of Vanilla

From our Fruit of the Orchid Macaroon to the Vanilla Sky Marshmallow, vanilla bean pods are a key ingredient at Anges de Sucre! But where exactly does this precious spice come from? Read on to find out more about this delicate aroma.

Where is Vanilla from?

Vanilla originated in Mexico, more precisely on the east coast. The first people to cultivate vanilla beans were the Totonacas people, who believed the pods were given to them by gods. When the Aztecs conquered the land, they further cultivated this fruit they called "black flower", and it was finally introduced in Europe and Asia in the early 16th century by Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes (who also introduced chocolate!). The word vanilla derives from the Spanish word vaina, which literally means "little pod".

Vanilla beans on vine

What is Vanilla?

The vanilla pods are the fruit of the orchid vine (hence our vanilla macaroon name, Fruit of the Orchid!). Vanilla is a very particular plant, partly because the pods only grow once the flower has been pollinated. 

The orchid flower has a very special symbiotic relationship with the pollinating bees, because they are the only species of bees that are able to pollinate it. For hundreds of years, this ensured that Mexico was the sole producer of Vanilla. However in the late 1800's, a 12-year-old slave suggested the vanilla plants were hand pollinated, which turned out to work very well. From then on other countries were able to grow and harvest vanilla beans, and countries like Madagascar, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea soon replaced Mexico as the top producers of vanilla.

How are vanilla pods harvested?

It is no surprise that vanilla bean pods are the one of the most expensive spices: their harvest is a very precise and intensive process.
Once the vanilla plant is pollinated, its flower will wilt and die within hours, and it will take only a few days for the vanilla bean to grow in its place. Because vanilla flowers will live no more than a day, it requires constant monitoring and careful pollination to assure the vanilla beans will grow. When the vanilla pod has grown, it will take on average 10 months to mature. Again, harvesting the pods at the right time is very important - they need to be harvested while still green, immature and odourless, and harvesting too early or too late will cause a change in flavour. Finally, to make the process even more delicate only one vanilla bean grows for each flower.

How is it prepared?

After the vanilla pods have been harvested, there are three more steps in the process before it is commercialised: killing, sweating and drying. To prevent the pod from growing any more, vanilla beans are either placed under the hot sun, in an oven or hot water. The sweating stage lasts on average 7 to 10 days. Vanilla beans are placed in a hot and humid environment (such as fabric covered boxes, after they have been boiled). This is done to allow the enzymes to process certain compounds into vanillin, which gives the ultimate vanilla flavour we use in our vanilla cakes. Finally, the vanilla is dried to prevent it from rotting and to lock in the aroma: it is set out in the sun in the morning, and stored during the afternoon.

From Papua New Guinea to Anges de Sucre.

The vanilla beans we use in our sweet treats, from our Vanilla cakes to  Macarons comes from exotic Papua New Guinea where they are carefully harvested by hand and shipped straight to our kitchen, ensuring a fresh and powerful flavour in every bite. 

With vanilla love,

The Ninja

View all our Vanilla Cakes

Leave a comment (all fields required)

Comments will be approved before showing up.