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Vanilla: We're Spilling the Beans

Vanilla: We're Spilling the Beans

While vanilla may seem pretty vanilla to some people, vanilla to us is one of the most important culinary flavors of them all. Second only to saffron as the world's most desired flavors, vanilla is rich and luxurious in nature with a flavor that varies significantly from one region to the next. The main varieties of vanilla beans typically come from tropical regions of Madagascar, Mexico, Tahiti, and Indonesia.

The vanilla plant, vanilla planifolia, is a crooked and delicate vine with thick leaves that has the ability to climb up neighboring trees to grow within the shade of their boughs. It takes approximately three years for vanilla plants to mature and begin growing beans, but they can live for up to ten years. The vanilla plant is a rather persnickety plant because it can only grow properly in certain parts of the world, more specifically places near the equator. Interestingly enough, vanilla plants and accompanying blossoms can only grow 10 to 20 degrees north or south of the equator--that’s one picky plant. And rightfully so. In order for this plant to grow and thrive, the conditions must be just right.

From this vine, beautiful orchids are produced, which must be pollinated quickly to enable the growth of vanilla beans. Since the orchids are only in bloom for such a short while--a miniscule 24 hours--action must be taken quickly. Vanilla farmers have discovered that hand-pollinating flowers help to maximize yield.    

Vanilla beans can grow up to one foot long and are then ranked based upon overall size and length, how straight the bean is, and its vanillin content--or overall flavor. Freshly harvested vanilla beans are originally green in color, but are then cured, put through a sweating process, and dried to create the wonderful aroma and flavor that vanilla is so well-known for. The work that goes into growing this gorgeous plant is tedious, but well worth the effort.

When ready to be used for baking and cooking, vanilla beans are split lengthwise to reveal thousands of tiny brown seeds that are as flavorful as they are fragrant. The seeds are gently scraped out, usually with the back side of a knife, and can be added to just about any kind of recipe. Vanilla is a staple in so many widely known foods such as ice cream, cookies, custards, and other sweet delectables.

Take a look at Nature’s Flavors’ website for vanilla extracts, vanilla syrups, and other vanilla flavored products and be sure to regularly check back, as our selection of vanilla ingredients is growing each and every day. 



    • Avatar
      David Larkin
      Sep 11, 2017

      While I appreciate a general Wikipedia one-pager on Vanilla and it's background, what I really want is an in-depth and well-informed picture of the current vanilla market and direction, the reasons behind the volatile vanilla market, and Nature's Flavors take on what the future holds. I believe a majority of the people visiting your site alrerady know where vanilla comes from, but desperately want information on the state of the market.

      • Avatar
        Lyllian Rose
        Sep 11, 2017

        Agree!! What is going on and what can we expect... the pricing is driving it out of reach for us - how will you handle the increase and is it all organic??

    • Avatar
      Nature's Flavors
      Sep 11, 2017

      Hi, there! Thank you for your messages. You’ll be happy to know that we steadily monitor the market on a daily basis. Because many vanilla farmers have recently increased their vanilla production, we do anticipate a freefall at some point. Depending where the crop is being grown in the Northern or Southern Hemispheres, we are aware that Madagascar vanilla is harvested in December and Indonesia’s main season is April. Even though many farmers throughout Asia especially are moving their growth and production into overdrive, it does take 2-4 years for plants to produce, with a peak at around 7 years. We’ve seen a very similar situation in the past with cocoa, lemon oil, and orange oil and the market will eventually give. In the meantime, we’re always on the hunt for new suppliers. Check out our recent travels to Asia in search of just that. And, as always, please reach out if you have more questions. Give us a call at (714) 744-3700 any time. Thank you!

      VIDEO: The Flavor Guy in Search of Vanilla

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