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".
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, because the pods only grow once the flower has been pollinated.
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. 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.
With vanilla love,