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Vanilla planifolia, flower Vanilla planifolia (6998639597).jpg
Vanilla planifolia, flower
Dried vanilla fruits Vanilla 6beans.JPG
Dried vanilla fruits

Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla , primarily from the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla ( V. planifolia ). The word vanilla, derived from vainilla, the diminutive of the Spanish word vaina (vaina itself meaning a sheath or a pod), is translated simply as "little pod". [1] Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid, called tlīlxochitl by the Aztecs. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s. [2]

<i>Vanilla</i> (genus) genus of plants

Vanilla, the vanilla orchids, forms a flowering plant genus of about 110 species in the orchid family (Orchidaceae). The most widely known member is the flat-leaved vanilla, native to Mexico, from which commercial vanilla flavoring is derived. It is the only orchid widely used for industrial purposes in flavoring such products as foods, beverages and cosmetics, and is recognized as the most popular aroma and flavor. The key constituent imparting its popular characteristics is the phenolic aldehyde, vanillin.

<i>Vanilla planifolia</i> species of plant

Vanilla planifolia is a species of vanilla orchid. It is native to Mexico and Central America, and is one of the primary sources for vanilla flavouring, due to its high vanillin content. Common names are flat-leaved vanilla, Tahitian vanilla, and West Indian vanilla. Often, it is simply referred to as "the vanilla". It was first scientifically named in 1808.

A diminutive is a word that has been modified to convey a slighter degree of its root meaning, to convey the smallness of the object or quality named, or to convey a sense of intimacy or endearment. A diminutive form is a word-formation device used to express such meanings; in many languages, such forms can be translated as "little" and diminutives can also be formed as multi-word constructions such as "Tiny Tim". Diminutives are often employed as nicknames and pet names, when speaking to small children, and when expressing extreme tenderness and intimacy to an adult. The opposite of the diminutive form is the augmentative. Beyond the diminutive form of a single word, a diminutive can be a multi-word name, such as "Tiny Tim" or "Little Dorrit". In many languages, formation of diminutives by adding suffixes is a productive part of the language. For example, in Spanish gordo can be a nickname for someone who is overweight, and by adding an ito suffix, it becomes gordito which is more affectionate. A double diminutive is a diminutive form with two diminutive suffixes rather than one. While many languages apply a grammatical diminutive to nouns, a few – including Dutch, Latin, Polish, Macedonian, Czech, Russian and Estonian – also use it for adjectives and even other parts of speech. In English the alteration of meaning is often conveyed through clipping, making the words shorter and more colloquial. Diminutives formed by adding affixes in other languages are often longer and not necessarily understood.


Pollination is required to get the vanilla fruit from which the flavoring is derived. In 1837, Belgian botanist Charles François Antoine Morren discovered this fact and pioneered a method of artificially pollinating the plant. [3] The method proved financially unworkable and was not deployed commercially. [4] In 1841, Edmond Albius, a slave who lived on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, discovered at the age of 12 that the plant could be hand-pollinated. Hand-pollination allowed global cultivation of the plant. [5]

Charles François Antoine Morren Belgian botanist

Charles François Antoine Morren, was a Belgian botanist and horticulturist, and Director of the Jardin botanique de l’Université de Liège.

Edmond Albius important figure in the cultivation of vanilla

Edmond Albius was born into slavery and became an important figure in the cultivation of vanilla. At the age of 12, he invented a technique for pollinating vanilla orchids quickly and profitably. Albius' technique revolutionized the cultivation of vanilla and made it possible to profitably grow vanilla beans away from their native Mexico.

Réunion Overseas region and department in France

Réunion is an overseas department and region of France and an island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and 175 km (109 mi) southwest of Mauritius. As of January 2019, it had a population of 866,506.

Vanilla tahitensis in cultivation Vanilla no Tahiti.jpg
Vanilla tahitensis in cultivation

Three major species of vanilla currently are grown globally, all of which derive from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern-day Mexico. [6] They are V. planifolia (syn. V. fragrans), grown on Madagascar, Réunion, and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean; V. tahitensis , grown in the South Pacific; and V. pompona , found in the West Indies, Central America, and South America. [7] The majority of the world's vanilla is the V. planifolia species, more commonly known as Bourbon vanilla (after the former name of Réunion, Île Bourbon) or Madagascar vanilla, which is produced in Madagascar and neighboring islands in the southwestern Indian Ocean, and in Indonesia. Combined, Madagascar and Indonesia produce two-thirds of the world's supply of vanilla.

In biology, a species is the basic unit of classification and a taxonomic rank of an organism, as well as a unit of biodiversity. A species is often defined as the largest group of organisms in which any two individuals of the appropriate sexes or mating types can produce fertile offspring, typically by sexual reproduction. Other ways of defining species include their karyotype, DNA sequence, morphology, behaviour or ecological niche. In addition, paleontologists use the concept of the chronospecies since fossil reproduction cannot be examined.

Mesoamerica Cultural area in the Americas

Mesoamerica is a historical region and cultural area in North America. It extends from approximately central Mexico through Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and northern Costa Rica, and within this region pre-Columbian societies flourished before the Spanish colonization of the Americas. In the 16th century, European diseases like smallpox and measles caused the deaths of upwards of 90% of the indigenous people. It is one of five areas in the world where ancient civilization arose independently, and the second in the Americas along with Norte Chico (Caral-Supe) in present-day Peru, in the northern coastal region.

Mexico Country in the southern portion of North America

Mexico, officially the United Mexican States, is a country in the southern portion of North America. It is bordered to the north by the United States; to the south and west by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Guatemala, Belize, and the Caribbean Sea; and to the east by the Gulf of Mexico. Covering almost 2,000,000 square kilometers (770,000 sq mi), the nation is the fourth largest country in the Americas by total area and the 13th largest independent state in the world. With an estimated population of over 129 million people, Mexico is the tenth most populous country and the most populous Spanish-speaking country in the world, while being the second most populous nation in Latin America after Brazil. Mexico is a federation comprising 31 states plus Mexico City (CDMX), which is the capital city and its most populous city. Other metropolises in the country include Guadalajara, Monterrey, Puebla, Toluca, Tijuana, and León.

Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron [8] [9] because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive. [9] Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavor. [10] As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture, and aromatherapy.

Saffron Spice

Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of Crocus sativus, commonly known as the "saffron crocus". The vivid crimson stigma and styles, called threads, are collected and dried to be used mainly as a seasoning and colouring agent in food. Saffron has long been the world's most costly spice by weight. Although some doubts remain on its origin, it is believed that saffron originated in Iran. However, Greece and Mesopotamia have also been suggested as the possible region of origin of this plant. C. sativus is possibly a triploid form of Crocus cartwrightianus. Saffron crocus slowly propagated throughout much of Eurasia and was later brought to parts of North Africa, North America, and Oceania.

Aromatherapy Pseudoscience

Aromatherapy is a pseudoscience based on the usage of aromatic materials, including essential oils, and other aroma compounds, with claims for improving psychological or physical well-being. It is offered as a complementary therapy or as a form of alternative medicine, the first meaning alongside standard treatments, the second instead of conventional, evidence-based treatments.


Drawing of the Vanilla plant from the Florentine Codex (circa 1580) and description of its use and properties written in the Nahuatl language Vanilla florentine codex.jpg
Drawing of the Vanilla plant from the Florentine Codex (circa 1580) and description of its use and properties written in the Nahuatl language

According to other popular belief, the Totonac Aztec-age people, who inhabit the east coast of Mexico in the present-day state of Veracruz, were among the first people to cultivate vanilla in the 15th century. [11] Aztecs invading from the central highlands of Mexico conquered the Totonacs, and developed a taste for the vanilla pods. They named the fruit tlilxochitl, or "black flower", after the matured fruit, which shrivels and turns black shortly after it is picked.

Totonac ethnic group

The Totonac are an indigenous people of Mexico who reside in the states of Veracruz, Puebla, and Hidalgo. They are one of the possible builders of the pre-Columbian city of El Tajín, and further maintained quarters in Teotihuacán. Until the mid-19th century they were the world's main producers of vanilla.

Aztec Empire Imperial alliance of city states located in central Mexico during the 15th and 16th centuries

The Aztec Empire, or the Triple Alliance, was an alliance of three Nahua altepetl city-states: Mexico-Tenochtitlan, Texcoco, and Tlacopan. These three city-states ruled the area in and around the Valley of Mexico from 1428 until the combined forces of the Spanish conquistadores and their native allies under Hernán Cortés slaughtered them in 1521.

Veracruz State of Mexico

Veracruz, formally Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave, officially the Free and Sovereign State of Veracruz de Ignacio de la Llave, is one of the 31 states that, along with Mexico city, comprise the 32 federative entities of Mexico. It is divided in 212 municipalities and its capital city is Xalapa-Enríquez.

Until the mid-19th century, Mexico was the chief producer of vanilla. [12] In 1819, French entrepreneurs shipped vanilla fruits to the islands of Réunion and Mauritius in hopes of producing vanilla there. After Edmond Albius discovered how to pollinate the flowers quickly by hand, the pods began to thrive. Soon, the tropical orchids were sent from Réunion to the Comoros Islands, Seychelles, and Madagascar, along with instructions for pollinating them. By 1898, Madagascar, Réunion, and the Comoros Islands produced 200 metric tons of vanilla beans, about 80% of world production. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Indonesia is currently responsible for the vast majority of the world's Bourbon vanilla production [13] and 58% of the world total vanilla fruit production.

Mauritius Island nation in the Indian Ocean

Mauritius, officially the Republic of Mauritius, is an island nation in the Indian Ocean about 2,000 kilometres off the southeast coast of the African continent. The country includes the islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues, 560 kilometres east of Mauritius, and the outer islands of Agaléga and St. Brandon. The islands of Mauritius and Rodrigues form part of the Mascarene Islands, along with nearby Réunion, a French overseas department. The area of the country is 2,040 square kilometres (790 sq mi). The capital and largest city is Port Louis.

Seychelles Island country to the East of Africa

Seychelles, officially the Republic of Seychelles, is an archipelago country in the Indian Ocean. The capital of the 115-island country, Victoria, lies 1,500 kilometres (932 mi) east of mainland East Africa. Other nearby island countries and territories include Comoros, Mayotte, Madagascar, Réunion and Mauritius to the south; as well as the Maldives and Chagos Archipelago to the east. With a population of roughly 94,367, it has the smallest population of any sovereign African country.

Madagascar Island nation off the coast of Southeast Africa, in the Indian Ocean

Madagascar, officially the Republic of Madagascar, and previously known as the Malagasy Republic, is an island country in the Indian Ocean, approximately 400 kilometres off the coast of East Africa. At 592,800 square kilometres (228,900 sq mi) Madagascar is the world's 2nd largest island country. The nation comprises the island of Madagascar and numerous smaller peripheral islands. Following the prehistoric breakup of the supercontinent Gondwana, Madagascar split from the Indian subcontinent around 88 million years ago, allowing native plants and animals to evolve in relative isolation. Consequently, Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot; over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth. The island's diverse ecosystems and unique wildlife are threatened by the encroachment of the rapidly growing human population and other environmental threats.

Vanilla cultivation Vanilla fragrans 3.jpg
Vanilla cultivation

The market price of vanilla rose dramatically in the late 1970s after a tropical cyclone ravaged key croplands. Prices remained high through the early 1980s despite the introduction of Indonesian vanilla. In the mid-1980s, the cartel that had controlled vanilla prices and distribution since its creation in 1930 disbanded. [14] Prices dropped 70% over the next few years, to nearly US$20 per kilogram; prices rose sharply again after tropical cyclone Hudah struck Madagascar in April 2000. The cyclone, political instability, and poor weather in the third year drove vanilla prices to an astonishing US$500/kg in 2004, bringing new countries into the vanilla industry. A good crop, coupled with decreased demand caused by the production of imitation vanilla, pushed the market price down to the $40/kg range in the middle of 2005. By 2010, prices were down to $20/kg. Cyclone Enawo caused in similar spike to $500/kg in 2017. [15]

Madagascar (especially the fertile Sava region) accounts for much of the global production of vanilla. Mexico, once the leading producer of natural vanilla with an annual yield of 500 tons of cured beans, produced only 10 tons in 2006. An estimated 95% of "vanilla" products are artificially flavored with vanillin derived from lignin instead of vanilla fruits. [16]


Vanilla was completely unknown in the Old World before Cortés arrived in Mexico. Spanish explorers arriving on the Gulf Coast of Mexico in the early 16th century gave vanilla its current name. Portuguese sailors and explorers brought vanilla into Africa and Asia later that century. They called it vainilla, or "little pod". The word vanilla entered the English language in 1754, when the botanist Philip Miller wrote about the genus in his Gardener’s Dictionary. [17] Vainilla is from the diminutive of vaina, from the Latin vagina (sheath) to describe the shape of the pods. [18]


Vanilla orchid

Vanilla extract displays its distinctive color VanillaExtract.png
Vanilla extract displays its distinctive color
V. planifolia - flower VanillaFlowerLongitudinalSection-en.png
V. planifolia – flower

The main species harvested for vanilla is V. planifolia. Although it is native to Mexico, it is now widely grown throughout the tropics. Indonesia and Madagascar are the world's largest producers. Additional sources include V. pompona and V. tahitiensis (grown in Niue and Tahiti), although the vanillin content of these species is much less than V. planifolia. [19]

Vanilla grows as a vine, climbing up an existing tree (also called a tutor), pole, or other support. It can be grown in a wood (on trees), in a plantation (on trees or poles), or in a "shader", in increasing orders of productivity. Its growth environment is referred to as its terroir, and includes not only the adjacent plants, but also the climate, geography, and local geology. Left alone, it will grow as high as possible on the support, with few flowers. Every year, growers fold the higher parts of the plant downward so the plant stays at heights accessible by a standing human. This also greatly stimulates flowering.

The distinctively flavored compounds are found in the fruit, which results from the pollination of the flower. These seed pods are roughly a third of an inch by six inches, and brownish red to black when ripe. Inside of these pods is an oily liquid full of tiny seeds. [20] One flower produces one fruit. V. planifolia flowers are hermaphroditic: they carry both male (anther) and female (stigma) organs. However, self-pollination is blocked by a membrane which separates those organs. The flowers can be naturally pollinated by bees of genus Melipona (abeja de monte or mountain bee), by bee genus Eulaema , or by hummingbirds. [21] [22] The Melipona bee provided Mexico with a 300-year-long advantage on vanilla production from the time it was first discovered by Europeans. The first vanilla orchid to flower in Europe was in the London collection of the Honourable Charles Greville in 1806. Cuttings from that plant went to Netherlands and Paris, from which the French first transplanted the vines to their overseas colonies. The vines grew, but would not fruit outside Mexico. Growers tried to bring this bee into other growing locales, to no avail. The only way to produce fruits without the bees is artificial pollination. Today, even in Mexico, hand pollination is used extensively.

In 1836, botanist Charles François Antoine Morren was drinking coffee on a patio in Papantla (in Veracruz, Mexico) and noticed black bees flying around the vanilla flowers next to his table. He watched their actions closely as they would land and work their way under a flap inside the flower, transferring pollen in the process. Within hours, the flowers closed and several days later, Morren noticed vanilla pods beginning to form. Morren immediately began experimenting with hand pollination. A few years later in 1841, a simple and efficient artificial hand-pollination method was developed by a 12-year-old slave named Edmond Albius on Réunion, a method still used today. Using a beveled sliver of bamboo, [23] an agricultural worker lifts the membrane separating the anther and the stigma, then, using the thumb, transfers the pollinia from the anther to the stigma. The flower, self-pollinated, will then produce a fruit. The vanilla flower lasts about one day, sometimes less, so growers have to inspect their plantations every day for open flowers, a labor-intensive task.

The fruit, a seed capsule, if left on the plant, ripens and opens at the end; as it dries, the phenolic compounds crystallize, giving the fruits a diamond-dusted appearance, which the French call givre (hoarfrost). It then releases the distinctive vanilla smell. The fruit contains tiny, black seeds. In dishes prepared with whole natural vanilla, these seeds are recognizable as black specks. Both the pod and the seeds are used in cooking.

Like other orchids' seeds, vanilla seeds will not germinate without the presence of certain mycorrhizal fungi. Instead, growers reproduce the plant by cutting: they remove sections of the vine with six or more leaf nodes, a root opposite each leaf. The two lower leaves are removed, and this area is buried in loose soil at the base of a support. The remaining upper roots cling to the support, and often grow down into the soil. Growth is rapid under good conditions.


A bottle of vanilla extract Madagascar bourbon vanilla x.jpg
A bottle of vanilla extract

The term French vanilla is often used to designate particular preparations with a strong vanilla aroma, containing vanilla grains and sometimes also containing eggs (especially egg yolks). The appellation originates from the French style of making vanilla ice cream with a custard base, using vanilla pods, cream, and egg yolks. Inclusion of vanilla varietals from any of the former French dependencies or overseas France may be a part of the flavoring. Alternatively, French vanilla is taken to refer to a vanilla-custard flavor.


Chemical structure of vanillin Vanillin.svg
Chemical structure of vanillin

Vanilla essence occurs in two forms. Real seedpod extract is a complex mixture of several hundred different compounds, including vanillin, acetaldehyde, acetic acid, furfural, hexanoic acid, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, eugenol, methyl cinnamate, and isobutyric acid. [27] Synthetic essence consists of a solution of synthetic vanillin in ethanol. The chemical compound vanillin (4-hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde) is a major contributor to the characteristic flavor and aroma of real vanilla and is the main flavor component of cured vanilla beans. [28] Vanillin was first isolated from vanilla pods by Gobley in 1858. [29] By 1874, it had been obtained from glycosides of pine tree sap, temporarily causing a depression in the natural vanilla industry. Vanillin can be easily synthesized from various raw materials, but the majority of food-grade (> 99% pure) vanillin is made from guaiacol.[ citation needed ]


In general, quality vanilla only comes from good vines and through careful production methods. Commercial vanilla production can be performed under open field and "greenhouse" operations. The two production systems share these similarities:

Vanilla grows best in a hot, humid climate from sea level to an elevation of 1,500 m. The ideal climate has moderate rainfall, 1,500–3,000 mm, evenly distributed through 10 months of the year. Optimum temperatures for cultivation are 15–30 °C (59–86 °F) during the day and 15–20 °C (59–68 °F) during the night. Ideal humidity is around 80%, and under normal greenhouse conditions, it can be achieved by an evaporative cooler. However, since greenhouse vanilla is grown near the equator and under polymer (HDPE) netting (shading of 50%), this humidity can be achieved by the environment. Most successful vanilla growing and processing is done in the region within 10 to 20° of the equator.

Soils for vanilla cultivation should be loose, with high organic matter content and loamy texture. They must be well drained, and a slight slope helps in this condition. Soil pH has not been well documented, but some researchers have indicated an optimum soil pH around 5.3. [31] Mulch is very important for proper growth of the vine, and a considerable portion of mulch should be placed in the base of the vine. [32] Fertilization varies with soil conditions, but general recommendations are: 40 to 60 g of N, 20 to 30 g of P2O5 and 60 to 100 g of K2O should be applied to each plant per year besides organic manures, such as vermicompost, oil cakes, poultry manure, and wood ash. Foliar applications are also good for vanilla, and a solution of 1% NPK (17:17:17) can be sprayed on the plant once a month. Vanilla requires organic matter, so three or four applications of mulch a year are adequate for the plant.

Propagation, preparation and type of stock

Dissemination of vanilla can be achieved either by stem cutting or by tissue culture. For stem cutting, a progeny garden needs to be established. All plants need to grow under 50% shade, as well as the rest of the crop. Mulching the trenches with coconut husk and micro irrigation provide an ideal microclimate for vegetative growth. [33] Cuttings between 60 and 120 cm (24 and 47 in) should be selected for planting in the field or greenhouse. Cuttings below 60 to 120 cm (24 to 47 in) need to be rooted and raised in a separate nursery before planting. Planting material should always come from unflowered portions of the vine. Wilting of the cuttings before planting provides better conditions for root initiation and establishment. [30]

Before planting the cuttings, trees to support the vine must be planted at least three months before sowing the cuttings. Pits of 30 × 30 × 30 cm are dug 30 cm (12 in) away from the tree and filled with farm yard manure (vermicompost), sand and top soil mixed well. An average of 2000 cuttings can be planted per hectare (2.5 acres). One important consideration is that when planting the cuttings from the base, four leaves should be pruned and the pruned basal point must be pressed into the soil in a way such that the nodes are in close contact with the soil, and are placed at a depth of 15 to 20 cm (5.9 to 7.9 in). [32] The top portion of the cutting is tied to the tree using natural fibers such as banana or hemp.

Tissue culture

Tissue culture was first used as a means of creating vanilla plants during the 1980s at Tamil Nadu University. This was the part of the first project to grow V. planifolia in India. At that time, a shortage of vanilla planting stock was occurring in India. The approach was inspired by the work going on to tissue culture other flowering plants. Several methods have been proposed for vanilla tissue culture, but all of them begin from axillary buds of the vanilla vine. [34] [35] In vitro multiplication has also been achieved through culture of callus masses, protocorns, root tips and stem nodes. [36] Description of any of these processes can be obtained from the references listed before, but all of them are successful in generation of new vanilla plants that first need to be grown up to a height of at least 30 cm (12 in) before they can be planted in the field or greenhouse. [30]

Scheduling considerations

In the tropics, the ideal time for planting vanilla is from September to November, when the weather is neither too rainy nor too dry, but this recommendation varies with growing conditions. Cuttings take one to eight weeks to establish roots, and show initial signs of growth from one of the leaf axils. A thick mulch of leaves should be provided immediately after planting as an additional source of organic matter. Three years are required for cuttings to grow enough to produce flowers and subsequent pods. As with most orchids, the blossoms grow along stems branching from the main vine. The buds, growing along the 6 to 10 in (15 to 25 cm) stems, bloom and mature in sequence, each at a different interval. [33]


External video
Nuvola apps kaboodle.svg Hand Pollination of Vanilla Planifolia Flowers, YouTube video

Flowering normally occurs every spring, and without pollination, the blossom wilts and falls, and no vanilla bean can grow. Each flower must be hand-pollinated within 12 hours of opening. In the wild, very few natural pollinators exist, with most pollination thought to be carried out by the shiny green Euglossa viridissima , some Eulaema spp. and other species of the euglossine or orchid bees, Euglossini, though direct evidence is lacking. Closely related Vanilla species are known to be pollinated by the euglossine bees. [37] The previously suggested pollination by stingless bees of the genus Melipona is thought to be improbable, as they are too small to be effective and have never been observed carrying Vanilla pollen or pollinating other orchids, though they do visit the flowers. [38] These pollinators do not exist outside the orchid's home range, and even within that range, vanilla orchids have only a 1% chance of successful pollination. As a result, all vanilla grown today is pollinated by hand. A small splinter of wood or a grass stem is used to lift the rostellum or move the flap upward, so the overhanging anther can be pressed against the stigma and self-pollinate the vine. Generally, one flower per raceme opens per day, so the raceme may be in flower for over 20 days. A healthy vine should produce about 50 to 100 beans per year, but growers are careful to pollinate only five or six flowers from the 20 on each raceme. The first flowers that open per vine should be pollinated, so the beans are similar in age. These agronomic practices facilitate harvest and increases bean quality. The fruits require five to six weeks to develop, but around six months to mature. Over-pollination results in diseases and inferior bean quality. [32] A vine remains productive between 12 and 14 years.

Pest and disease management

Most diseases come from the uncharacteristic growing conditions of vanilla. Therefore, conditions such as excess water, insufficient drainage, heavy mulch, overpollination, and too much shade favor disease development. Vanilla is susceptible to many fungal and viral diseases. Fusarium , Sclerotium , Phytophthora , and Colletrotrichum species cause rots of root, stem, leaf, bean, and shoot apex. These diseases can be controlled by spraying Bordeaux mixture (1%), carbendazim (0.2%) and copper oxychloride (0.2%).

Biological control of the spread of such diseases can be managed by applying to the soil Trichoderma (0.5 kg (1.1 lb) per plant in the rhizosphere) and foliar application of pseudomonads (0.2%). Mosaic virus, leaf curl, and cymbidium mosaic potex virus are the common viral diseases. These diseases are transmitted through the sap, so affected plants must be destroyed. The insect pests of vanilla include beetles and weevils that attack the flower, caterpillars, snakes, and slugs that damage the tender parts of shoot, flower buds, and immature fruit, and grasshoppers that affect cutting shoot tips. [32] [33] If organic agriculture is practiced, insecticides are avoided, and mechanical measures are adopted for pest management. [30] Most of these practices are implemented under greenhouse cultivation, since such field conditions are very difficult to achieve.

Artificial vanilla

Most artificial vanilla products contain vanillin, which can be produced synthetically from lignin, a natural polymer found in wood. Most synthetic vanillin is a byproduct from the pulp used in papermaking, in which the lignin is broken down using sulfites or sulfates. However, vanillin is only one of 171 identified aromatic components of real vanilla fruits. [39]

The orchid species Leptotes bicolor is used as a natural vanilla replacement in Paraguay and southern Brazil.

In 1996 the US Food and Drug Administration cautioned that some vanilla products sold in Mexico were made from the cheaper tonka bean which as well as vanillin also contains the toxin coumarin. They advised consumers to always check the ingredients label and avoid suspiciously cheap products. [40]

Nonplant vanilla flavoring

In the United States, castoreum, the exudate from the castor sacs of mature beavers, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a food additive, [41] often referenced simply as a "natural flavoring" in the product's list of ingredients. It is used in both food and beverages, [42] especially as vanilla and raspberry flavoring, with a total annual U.S. production of less than 300 pounds. [42] [43] It is also used to flavor some cigarettes and in perfume-making, and is used by fur trappers as a scent lure.

A vanilla plantation in a forest of Reunion Island Vanilla plantation in wood dsc00190.jpg
A vanilla plantation in a forest of Réunion Island


Harvesting vanilla fruits is as labor-intensive as pollinating the blossoms. Immature, dark green pods are not harvested. Pale yellow discoloration that commences at the distal end of the fruits is not a good indication of the maturity of pods. Each fruit ripens at its own time, requiring a daily harvest. "Current methods for determining the maturity of vanilla (Vanilla planifolia Andrews) beans are unreliable. Yellowing at the blossom end, the current index, occurs before beans accumulate maximum glucovanillin concentrations. Beans left on the vine until they turn brown have higher glucovanillin concentrations but may split and have low quality. Judging bean maturity is difficult as they reach full size soon after pollination. Glucovanillin accumulates from 20 weeks, maximum about 40 weeks after pollination. Mature green beans have 20% dry matter but less than 2% glucovanillin." [44] The accumulation of dry matter and glucovanillin are highly correlated.To ensure the finest flavor from every fruit, each individual pod must be picked by hand just as it begins to split on the end. Overmatured fruits are likely to split, causing a reduction in market value. Its commercial value is fixed based on the length and appearance of the pod.

If the fruit is more than 15 cm (5.9 in) in length, it is categorized as first-quality. The largest fruits greater than 16 cm (6.3 in) and up to as much as 21 cm (8.3 in) are usually reserved for the gourmet vanilla market, for sale to top chefs and restaurants. If the fruits are between 10 and 15 cm long, pods are under the second-quality category, and fruits less than 10 cm (3.9 in) in length are under the third-quality category. Each fruit contains thousands of tiny black vanilla seeds. Vanilla fruit yield depends on the care and management given to the hanging and fruiting vines. Any practice directed to stimulate aerial root production has a direct effect on vine productivity. A five-year-old vine can produce between 1.5 and 3 kg (3.3 and 6.6 lb) pods, and this production can increase up to 6 kg (13 lb) after a few years. The harvested green fruit can be commercialized as such or cured to get a better market price. [30] [32] [33]


Several methods exist in the market for curing vanilla; nevertheless, all of them consist of four basic steps: killing, sweating, slow-drying, and conditioning of the beans. [45] [46]


The vegetative tissue of the vanilla pod is killed to stop the vegetative growth of the pods and disrupt the cells and tissue of the fruits, which initiates enzymatic reactions responsible for the aroma. The method of killing varies, but may be accomplished by heating in hot water, freezing, or scratching, or killing by heating in an oven or exposing the beans to direct sunlight. The different methods give different profiles of enzymatic activity. [47] [48]

Testing has shown mechanical disruption of fruit tissues can cause curing processes, [49] including the degeneration of glucovanillin to vanillin, so the reasoning goes that disrupting the tissues and cells of the fruit allow enzymes and enzyme substrates to interact. [47]

Hot-water killing may consist of dipping the pods in hot water (63–65 °C (145–149 °F)) for three minutes, or at 80 °C (176 °F) for 10 seconds. In scratch killing, fruits are scratched along their length. [48] Frozen or quick-frozen fruits must be thawed again for the subsequent sweating stage. Tied in bundles and rolled in blankets, fruits may be placed in an oven at 60 °C (140 °F) for 36 to 48 hours. Exposing the fruits to sunlight until they turn brown, a method originating in Mexico, was practiced by the Aztecs. [47]


Sweating is a hydrolytic and oxidative process. Traditionally, it consists of keeping fruits, for 7 to 10 days, densely stacked and insulated in wool or other cloth. This retains a temperature of 45–65 °C (113–149 °F) and high humidity. Daily exposure to the sun may also be used, or dipping the fruits in hot water. The fruits are brown and have attained much of the characteristic vanilla flavor and aroma by the end of this process, but still retain a 60-70% moisture content by weight. [47]


Reduction of the beans to 25–30% moisture by weight, to prevent rotting and to lock the aroma in the pods, is always achieved by some exposure of the beans to air, and usually (and traditionally) intermittent shade and sunlight. Fruits may be laid out in the sun during the mornings and returned to their boxes in the afternoons, or spread on a wooden rack in a room for three to four weeks, sometimes with periods of sun exposure. Drying is the most problematic of the curing stages; unevenness in the drying process can lead to the loss of vanillin content of some fruits by the time the others are cured. [47]

Grading vanilla beans at Sambava, Madagascar Sambava - grading vanilla beans.jpg
Grading vanilla beans at Sambava, Madagascar


Conditioning is performed by storing the pods for five to six months in closed boxes, where the fragrance develops. The processed fruits are sorted, graded, bundled, and wrapped in paraffin paper and preserved for the development of desired bean qualities, especially flavor and aroma. The cured vanilla fruits contain an average of 2.5% vanillin.


Once fully cured, the vanilla fruits are sorted by quality and graded. Several vanilla fruit grading systems are in use. Each country which produces vanilla has its own grading system, [50] and individual vendors, in turn, sometimes use their own criteria for describing the quality of the fruits they offer for sale. [51] In general, vanilla fruit grade is based on the length, appearance (color, sheen, presence of any splits, presence of blemishes), and moisture content of the fruit. [50] [52] Whole, dark, plump and oily pods that are visually attractive, with no blemishes, and that have a higher moisture content are graded most highly. [53] Such pods are particularly prized by chefs for their appearance and can be featured in gourmet dishes. [51] Beans that show localized signs of disease or other physical defects are cut to remove the blemishes; the shorter fragments left are called "cuts" and are assigned lower grades, as are fruits with lower moisture contents. [52] Lower-grade fruits tend to be favored for uses in which the appearance is not as important, such as in the production of vanilla flavoring extract and in the fragrance industry.

Higher-grade fruits command higher prices in the market. [50] [52] However, because grade is so dependent on visual appearance and moisture content, fruits with the highest grade do not necessarily contain the highest concentration of characteristic flavor molecules such as vanillin, [54] and are not necessarily the most flavorful. [51]

Example of a Vanilla fruit grading system, used in Madagascar [50] [55] [56] [57] [58]
GradeColorAppearance / feelApproximate
moisture content†
Blackdark brown to blacksupple with oily luster> 30%
TK (Brown, or Semi-Black)dark brown to black sometimes with a few red streakslike Black but dryer/stiffer25–30%
Red Fox (European quality)brown with reddish variegationa few blemishes25%
Red American qualitybrown with reddish variegationsimilar to European red but more blemishes and dryer/stiffer22–25%
Cutsshort, cut, and often split fruits, typically with substandard aroma and color

moisture content varies among sources cited

A simplified, alternative grading system has been proposed for classifying vanilla fruits suitable for use in cooking: [51]

Simplified vanilla fruit grading system for cooks
Grade A /
Grade I
15 cm and longer, 100–120 fruits per poundAlso called "Gourmet" or "Prime". 30–35% moisture content.
Grade B /
Grade II
10–15 cm, 140–160 fruits per poundAlso called "Extract fruits". 15–25% moisture content.
Grade C /
Grade III
10 cm

Under this scheme, vanilla extract is normally made from Grade B fruits. [51]


Vanilla production - 2017
Flag of Madagascar.svg  Madagascar
Flag of Indonesia.svg  Indonesia
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China
Flag of Mexico.svg  Mexico
Flag of Papua New Guinea.svg  Papua New Guinea
Source: FAOSTAT [59]

In 2017, world production of vanilla was 8,142 tonnes, led by Madagascar with 39.6% of the total, and Indonesia with 29.5% (table). Due to drought, cyclones, and poor farming practices in Madagascar, there are concerns about the global supply and costs of vanilla in 2017 and 2018. [60] Intensity of criminal enterprises against Madagascar farmers is high, elevating the worldwide cost of using Madagascar vanilla in consumer products. [61]


Culinary uses

Vanilla rum, Madagascar Rhum arrange Madagascar.jpg
Vanilla rum, Madagascar

The four main commercial preparations of natural vanilla are:

A vanilla powder preparation made from sucrose and vanilla bean extracts. Pure Vanilla Powder.jpg
A vanilla powder preparation made from sucrose and vanilla bean extracts.

Vanilla flavoring in food may be achieved by adding vanilla extract or by cooking vanilla pods in the liquid preparation. A stronger aroma may be attained if the pods are split in two, exposing more of a pod's surface area to the liquid. In this case, the pods' seeds are mixed into the preparation. Natural vanilla gives a brown or yellow color to preparations, depending on the concentration. Good-quality vanilla has a strong, aromatic flavor, but food with small amounts of low-quality vanilla or artificial vanilla-like flavorings are far more common, since true vanilla is much more expensive.

Regarded as the world's most popular aroma and flavor, [64] vanilla is a widely used aroma and flavor compound for foods, beverages and cosmetics, as indicated by its popularity as an ice cream flavor. [65] Although vanilla is a prized flavoring agent on its own, it is also used to enhance the flavor of other substances, to which its own flavor is often complementary, such as chocolate, custard, caramel, coffee, and others. Vanilla is a common ingredient in Western sweet baked goods, such as cookies and cakes.

The food industry uses methyl and ethyl vanillin as less-expensive substitutes for real vanilla. Ethyl vanillin is more expensive, but has a stronger note. Cook's Illustrated ran several taste tests pitting vanilla against vanillin in baked goods and other applications, and to the consternation of the magazine editors, tasters could not differentiate the flavor of vanillin from vanilla; [66] however, for the case of vanilla ice cream, natural vanilla won out. [67] A more recent and thorough test by the same group produced a more interesting variety of results; namely, high-quality artificial vanilla flavoring is best for cookies, while high-quality real vanilla is slightly better for cakes and significantly better for unheated or lightly heated foods. [68] The liquid extracted from vanilla pods was once believed to have medical properties, helping with various stomach ailments. [69]

Contact dermatitis

Illustration of allergic contact dermatitis Blausen 0014 AllergicDermatitis.png
Illustration of allergic contact dermatitis

The sap of most species of vanilla orchid which exudes from cut stems or where beans are harvested can cause moderate to severe dermatitis if it comes in contact with bare skin. The sap of vanilla orchids contains calcium oxalate crystals, which are thought to be the main causative agent of contact dermatitis in vanilla plantation workers. [70] [71]

Related Research Articles

Orchidaceae family of plants

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Vanillin chemical compound

Vanillin is an organic compound with the molecular formula C8H8O3. It is a phenolic aldehyde. Its functional groups include aldehyde, hydroxyl, and ether. It is the primary component of the extract of the vanilla bean. Synthetic vanillin is now used more often than natural vanilla extract as a flavoring agent in foods, beverages, and pharmaceuticals.

Vanilla is a flavoring.

Vanilla extract

Vanilla extract is a solution made by macerating and percolating vanilla pods in a solution of ethanol and water. It is considered an essential ingredient in many Western desserts, especially baked goods like cakes, cookies, brownies, and cupcakes, as well as custards, ice creams, and puddings. Although its primary flavor compound is vanillin, pure vanilla extract contains several hundred additional flavor compounds, which are responsible for its complex, deep flavor. By contrast, artificial vanilla flavor is solely made up of artificially-derived vanillin, which is frequently made from a by-product of the wood pulp industry. Because of the way that vanilla extract is made, there is no possible way for it to be colorless or clear. Therefore, any "clear vanilla" flavoring is artificial.

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Passiflora foetida is a species of passion flower out of 550 species of Passiflora that is native to the southwestern United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America,Africa ,and much of South America. It has been introduced to tropical regions around the world, such as Southeast Asia, South Asia, and Hawaii. It is a creeping vine like other members of the genus, and yields an edible fruit. The specific epithet, foetida, means "stinking" in Latin and refers to the strong aroma emitted by damaged foliage.

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An extract is a substance made by extracting a part of a raw material, often by using a solvent such as ethanol or water. Extracts may be sold as tinctures, absolutes or in powder form.

Flavored liquors are alcoholic beverages that have added flavoring and, in some cases, a small amount of added sugar. They are distinct from liqueurs in that liqueurs have a large sugar content and may also contain glycerine.

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Shaved ice is a large family of ice-based dessert made of fine shavings of ice or finely crushed ice and sweet condiments or syrups. Usually, the syrup is added after the ice has been frozen and shaved—typically at the point of sale. However, flavoring can also be added before freezing. The dessert is consumed worldwide in various forms and manners. Shaved ice can also be mixed with large quantities of liquid to produce shaved ice drinks.

<i>Leptotes bicolor</i> species of plant

Leptotes bicolor is a species of orchid native to Paraguay and southern Brazil. It is the type species of the genus Leptotes. Its flowers and fruits are used as a substitute for vanilla in milk and ice cream.

<i>Vanilla pompona</i> species of plant

Vanilla pompona is a species of vanilla orchid. It is native to Mexico and northern South America, and is one of the sources for vanilla flavouring, due to its high vanillin content.

Vanilla ice cream Ice cream flavored with vanilla

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<i>Vanilla polylepis</i> species of plant

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Vanilla production in French Polynesia

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<i>Vanilla tahitensis</i> species of plant

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Further reading