While vanilla may seem pretty vanilla to some people, vanilla to us is one of the most important culinary flavors of them all. Second only to saffron as the world’s most desired flavors, vanilla is rich and luxurious in nature with a flavor that varies significantly from one region to the next. The main varieties of vanilla beans typically come from tropical regions of Madagascar, Mexico, Tahiti, and Indonesia.
The vanilla plant, vanilla planifolia, is a crooked and delicate vine with thick leaves that has the ability to climb up neighboring trees to grow within the shade of their boughs. It takes approximately three years for vanilla plants to mature and begin growing beans, but they can live for up to ten years. The vanilla plant is a rather persnickety plant because it can only grow properly in certain parts of the world, more specifically places near the equator. Interestingly enough, vanilla plants and accompanying blossoms can only grow 10 to 20 degrees north or south of the equator–that’s one picky plant. And rightfully so. In order for this plant to grow and thrive, the conditions must be just right.
From this vine, beautiful orchids are produced, which must be pollinated quickly to enable the growth of vanilla beans. Since the orchids are only in bloom for such a short while–a miniscule 24 hours–action must be taken quickly. Vanilla farmers have discovered that hand-pollinating flowers help to maximize yield.
Vanilla beans can grow up to one foot long and are then ranked based upon overall size and length, how straight the bean is, and its vanillin content–or overall flavor. Freshly harvested vanilla beans are originally green in color, but are then cured, put through a sweating process, and dried to create the wonderful aroma and flavor that vanilla is so well-known for. The work that goes into growing this gorgeous plant is tedious, but well worth the effort.
When ready to be used for baking and cooking, vanilla beans are split lengthwise to reveal thousands of tiny brown seeds that are as flavorful as they are fragrant. The seeds are gently scraped out, usually with the back side of a knife, and can be added to just about any kind of recipe. Vanilla is a staple in so many widely known foods such as ice cream, cookies, custards, and other sweet delectables.
Take a look at Nature’s Flavors’ website for vanilla extracts, vanilla syrups, and other vanilla flavored products and be sure to regularly check back, as our selection of vanilla ingredients is growing each and every day.