Origins of Vanilla
The Aztecs are known to be the first producers of vanilla plants which fall into the category of orchids.
The conquistadors shipped some plantations to Spain in the 16th century and in the 18thcentury, various islands like Mauritius, Madagascar, Reunion, Comoros, Seychelles and Indonesia were privileged to have vanilla farms cultivated by the colonisers.
Vanilla is traditionally pollinated by a unique bee and is now more and more hand-pollinated, thus making it a very labour intensive crop. As some countries moved away from the labour intensive crop production, vanilla cultivation is now highly concentrated in Madagascar with around 70% of the world production.
Vanilla is a creepy plant and requires partial shade and lowland cultivation with certain temperature and humidity requirements best offered by tropical countries. This plant cannot survive frost.
The vanilla bean (the fruit) is generally 10 to 25 cms long, bearing in mind that no two beans are identical, and have a width of around 8 – 15 mm. It is green and greenish yellow at maturity (plucking time) and dark black to slight reddish after processing.
The most important element in the vanilla pod (bean) is the vanillin content, also known as the oleoresin, and which varies between 1.5% to 3.5% per pod.