|Vanilla orchids bloom for one day (or less!)|
The vanilla bean (or pod), from which vanilla is derived, is the fruit of the vanilla orchid. It is the only edible plant in the orchid family, and only native to Mexico. It was first cultivated by Mexico's Tononac people, who in the 15th century were later conquered by the Aztecs. Legends and myths about the vanilla plant have long existed in their culture.
|Vanilla plants grow on vines,|
often climbing trees in wild.
characteristic that affected its history and distribution for centuries. It can only be pollinated by Mexico's Melipone bee, and efforts to relocate this bee have never been successful.
This was first discovered by the Spanish explorer Cortes in the early 1500s, when the plants he took back to Spain failed to produce fruit. It is the sole reason Mexico became the center of vanilla production, a monopoly that lasted for 300 years.
In 1841, a young twelve-year-old slave named Edmond Albius changed all that. He was living on a French island in the Indian Ocean at the time, and had discovered a way to hand pollinate the vanilla flower. Although labor-intensive, the technique caused a global explosion in vanilla production outside of Mexico. In fact, it became so competitive that so-called "vanilla rustlers" began robbing and fighting for world domination.
|- Vanilla plantation -|
La Reunion Island, Guatemala
Considered also a spice, vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world (after saffron). All is due to the labor-intensive method still required to pollinate the vanilla orchid flower, but there are other factors, too. Vanilla plants can only be grown within 20 degrees of the equator.
Added to this, orchid flowers bloom for one day only (sometimes less), so the timing of pollination is critical!
|Vanilla beans are dried to process. |
The tiny seeds inside are flavorless,
and often seen in vanilla bean
ice cream (as black specks)
fragrance is artificial. Imitation vanilla is made from a wood byproduct called lignin. In tastes test, most people cannot tell the difference in baked goods, but in cold or unbaked foods, they notice a difference in the taste.
An FDA approved non-plant substitute in the U.S. called castoreum (from castor sacs of beavers, a type of scent gland) is also used. It is often referenced as "natural flavoring" on the label, and commonly used in foods, beverages, cigarettes and perfumes. Personally, after reading all this, I'm going to stick to pure vanilla when cooking at home. As for the rest, all we can really do is avoid processed foods.
Do you use artificial or pure vanilla extract?
Vanilla comes in the following forms:
- pure vanilla extract - from beans soaked in alcohol and water
- vanilla powder - from dried pure extract or beans, pulverized
- vanilla bean - the orchid fruit (buy dark, almost black in color, and slightly moist); beans should last five years, if stored away from light and heat (do not freeze)
- vanilla sugar - sugar flavored by vanilla beans
- vanilla paste - from pure extract and bean seed in syrup
|Dried vanilla beans|
"Easy Vanilla Sugar"
Fill large jar with sugar. Break up vanilla bean into three pieces. Press into the sugar and let sit for several weeks.
"Yummy Vanilla Custard"
2 cups milk
1 vanilla pod (bean)
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
3/4 cup stiffly whipped cream
--In heavy saucepan, add milk and vanilla pod. Heat to under boiling point and remove from burner. (Wipe vanilla pod dry and store. You can use again another time)
--In medium bowl, beat eggs until lemon-colored. Pour small amount of hot milk over eggs, stirring constantly.
--Add mixture to remaining milk in saucepan and cook, stirring constantly over low heat for 20 minutes (until thick). Remove from heat, stir in sugar. Let cool. Then fold in whipped cream gradually.
(Note: one teaspoon vanilla extract can be substituted for vanilla pod. Add to sauce after removing from heat. Use as sauce or custard.
--Pure Vanilla: Irresistible Recipes and Essential Techniques
by Sauna Sever and Leigh Beisch (2012)
--Vanilla Orchards: Natural
History and Cultivation
by Ken Cameron (2011)
--I'm Chocolate, You're Vanilla: Raising Healthy Black and Biracial Children in a Race-Conscious World by Marguerite Wright (2000)
--Vanilla: Travels in Search of
the Ice Cream Orchard
by Tim Ecott (2005)
--Vanilla Sky (2001) (trailer)
starring Tom Cruise and Penelope Cruz,
Cameron Diaz and Kurt Russell
--Vanilla Twilight by Owl City (2010)
Sources: http://www.beanilla.com/vanilla-faqs/; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanilla; http://vanilla.servolux.nl/vanilla_history.html;