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Vanilla From A To Z: 26 Interesting Things About Vanilla

Vanilla From A To Z: 26 Interesting Things About Vanilla

It's much more than an ice cream flavour: from Tom Cruise to Hernán Cortés, from the Indian Ocean to Mexico, a list of facts and figures about vanilla

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Most artificial vanilla products contain vanillin, which can be produced synthetically from lignin, a natural chemical compound found in wood. Synthetic vanillin is a byproduct of the pulp used in papermaking where the lignin is broken down.

Think about vanilla ice cream: vanilla is associated with pure white. If its flower is really white, its fruit is actually black. The matured pod shrivels and turns black shortly after it is picked. Totonac people of the Gulf Coast of Mexico were the first to cultivate vanilla, they named the fruit tlilxochitl, or "black flower". Natural vanilla gives a brown or yellow color to preparations.

There are four main varieties. Bourbon vanilla is from Indian Ocean islands such as Madagascar, the Comoros, and Réunion, formerly the Île Bourbon. Mexican vanilla marks vanilla from the land of its origin. They both come from V. planifolia. Tahitian vanilla is the name for vanilla from French Polynesia, made with the fruity V. tahitiensis strain. West Indian vanilla is made from the V. pompona strain grown in the Caribbean as well as in Central and South America.

The Spanish word Vainilla is the diminutive of vaina, from the Latin vagina (sheath) to describe the way the pod must be split open to expose the seeds.

It's a solution containing the flavor compound vanillin as its primary ingredient. Vanillin is only one of 171 identified aromatic components of real vanilla fruits, but it is the one responsible for the characteristic flavor and smell of vanilla. Pure vanilla extract is made by macerating and percolating vanilla seedpods in a solution of ethyl, alcohol and water. The vanilla essence is otherwise obtained from a solution containing synthetic vanillin.

Not only a version of the famous American chocolate cake. Vanilla Fudge was an American rock band during the Sixties, considered one of few American links between psychedelia and hard rock. Other bands were inspired by vanilla: Vanilla Ninja is a three-piece Estonian girl band; and another girl band from Barnet, London, is called Vanilla.

Gourmet vanilla beans – Grade A - are oily and moist; they are the largest ones, greater than 16 cm and up to as much as 21cm. If the beans are between 10 and 15 cm long, they are called extract beans, and they belong to the second-quality category, Grade B.

Hernán Cortés
The Spanish conquistador is credited to have introduced vanilla to Europe in the 1520s. He brought it from the New World along with another sweet treat: chocolate.

Together with Madagascar, is the biggest world producer. Between 1400 and 2300 tons of dried vanilla are produced worldwide each year.

Jaques Guerlain
He mixed artificial vanilla to Jicky, his grandfather’s, founder of the oldest French perfume house, masterpiece. Shalimar - presented at the 1925 Paris exposition - was born. From there on, synthetic vanilla essence is a key note in many famous perfumes, from Cartier’s Must to Chanel’s Coco to Coty’s Vanilla Field.

Vanilla pods must be killed to stop their vegetative growth. The method of killing varies, but may be accomplished by heating in hot water, freezing, or scratching, or by heating in an oven or exposing the beans to direct sunlight. Water Kill, or Bourbon method, is the most commonly used one, and it consists in steeping the beans in hot water for a few minutes.

Leptotes bicolor
It is a species of orchid native to Paraguay and Southern Brazil used as a substitute for vanilla in milk and ice cream. It grows in cooler climates than vanilla. It contains vanillin, the main compound of vanilla extract.

The plantations on the island, located off the Southeastern coast of Africa, on the Indian Ocean, are so precious that the islanders tend to be very protective of them: they would never tell you where to find them! And, in any case, they are watched over strictly.

The French costal city that held the first international congress dedicated to vanilla, in 2004, home of International Vanilla Association. France is the n.1 European consumer of Bourbon quality natural vanilla – Bourbon quality. Nevertheless, the US is the world’s largest consumer.

Vanilla flavoring derives from a beautiful orchid of the genus Vanilla. It is native to Mexico, where the primary species is the Vanilla Planifolia. Vanilla orchids widely grow throughout the tropics as a vine, climbing up an existing tree (or a pole in plantations). They are the only orchids cultivated for non-ornamental reasons.

It is vanilla’s fruit, the bean containing thousands of tiny seeds. To maximize the scent, the pod must be cut open lengthwise and cooked in a liquid preparation.

It was believed that best quality of vanilla was the so-called vanille givrée (hoarfrost), the one with vanillin crystals on the outside of the bean. Apparently, hoarfrost is not a true indicator of excellence. 

It is the island in the Indian Ocean where vanilla was first cultivated outside Central America. Early attempts to grow the orchid elsewhere proved futile because of the symbiotic relationship with its natural pollinator, a local bee. In 1841, Edmond Albius, a 12-year-old slave who lived on the French island, discovered that the plant could be hand-pollinated. Hand-pollination allowed global cultivation of the plant.

Vanilla sex means conventional, unadventurous sex – it often refers to the missionary position. Lately it is on everyone’s lips thanks to its use in E.L. James’ erotic Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. It used to be popular belief that vanilla was an aphrodisiac.

At first glance, some vanilla bean might show some kind of imperfection, as if damaged by an insect. It is actually a tattoo with the initials of the grower. This practice is common in Madagascar where bean rustling is a problem.

The food industry represents 80 to 85% of the business, with corporate chocolate, ice-cream and sweet drink makers leading the share. There are three main commercial preparations of natural vanilla: whole pod; powder (ground pods) and extract. The cosmetic industry and privates account for the rest.

Vanilla Sky
A 2001 movie, starring Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz and Penélope Cruz. It is the story of a successful publisher who finds his life taking a turn for the surreal after a car accident with a jaded lover.

Vanilla is considered a very valuable product. Natural vanilla is the most expensive spice after saffron, because of the intensive labor that is required.

She’s the princess from the oldest vanilla legend. Xanat’s father forbad her to marry a mortal, so the two lovers fled in to the forest. They were captured and beheaded. The ground in which they dropped their blood gave life to a vine of tropical orchids. The legend is part of the Totonac’s mythology.

Together with ice-cream, it is the product par excellence in which vanilla is used as ‘default’ flavoring.

Zink & Triest
Until ten years ago, the company was the Number One vanilla trader worldwide. The vanilla market opened itself to new business actors after 2005, when Zink&Triest pulled out.

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