Vanilla ice cream? Cool! Cakes, chocolates, biscuits, drinks using vanilla? Yummy! Perfume with vanilla fragrance? Wow!
Well, vanilla is the world’s most preferred flavouring. It accounts for a whopping 29% among all food flavourings, according to a 2006 study by the International Ice Cream Association.
Vanilla is an orchid, a climbing terrestrial one. Originally it grew only in
Here I am reminded of a story about a former Maharaja of Travancore. His spies reported that the Western traders were planning to smuggle some pepper cultivars to their country. His Highness laughed and said, “They can’t take away our climate,” meaning that pepper wouldn’t grow in
But in the case of vanilla the problem the white men faced was different. The plant grew, but wouldn’t pollinate. They were to find out rather late that this critical function was carried out by Melipona bee. These insects were found only in
So the vanilla languished, away from its homeland. In the 1830s Charles François Antoine Morren, a Belgian botanist discovered a method to artificially pollinate vanilla. But it was not cost effective. A break came about five years later, when a 12-year-old slave in France, Edmond Albius, found a way to hand pollinate vanilla.
Today three major cultivars of vanilla are grown in many tropical countries including
The following photos from Olavipe shows different stages of the vanilla’s growth:
Once the pods mature, they are handpicked. Unless this is done at the proper time the quality would be badly affected and the commercial value would tumble drastically. Incidentally, other things being equal, the grading of vanilla is done according to length of the pods.
The plucked vanilla pods are cured and conditioned. Sun drying is a major factor in this process.
After the entire procedure is over, the vanilla is finally made available in the market mainly in three forms: whole pod, powder and extract.
And that’s the story behind vanilla, the ageless flavour.
Photos: TP, me. Copyright reserved. Click to enlarge.