Vanilla, as the band Bare Naked Ladies sang is “the finest of the flavours”. The band were referring to the flavour in ice cream (brought to North America by a future President when visiting France after the War of independence no less!) but it can be used in way more cooking and baking than just the cold dessert option. Organic Vanilla Extract from Foodie Flavours is a great vanilla hit provider. Where does this luxurious treat come from?
People will talk about the island of Madagascar but Vanilla comes from a tropical climbing orchid pod native to Mexico, and in Papantla, Mexico, some of the finest vanilla beans in the world are made to this day. It is incredible what work is required to go into producing the vanilla pod. To begin with, vanilla does not have a natural pollinator, not even in its native Mexico. This is because the tiny native Melipona bee is almost extinct. Therefore, by pushing a small membrane and touching the stigma and stamen together to fertilise the flower, all vanilla flowers have to be hand-pollinated. This is incredibly tricky work.
If the pods are fully shaped, they are harvested and boxed in wooden boxes. This process stimulates enzymes that are naturally released that eventually transform the pods black and generate the vanilla taste. Though plunging the green pods into hot water to trigger the enzyme this is a popular way for many farmers. They sweat the pods in wooden boxes and put them in a low-temperature kiln.
The vanilla beans are stacked on racks at dusk, where during the tropical evening they can begin to sweat. They are set out again in the sun the following day, and that night they are put to bed. Depending on the size, thickness and moisture content of the pods, this process goes on for between 12 and 28 days.