Everyone knows vanilla from desserts and from vanilla sugar, but what is it exactly? Vanilla is gained from the fruits of the climbing vanilla orchid. The plant originates from Mexico, where it was already used by the Aztecs to flavour cacao drinks. Nowadays vanilla mainly grows in Indonesia, Madagaskar, Tahiti and China. The biggest production of vanilla currently originates from Madagaskar.
The plant has green-white flowers, that grow into ripe fruits after 8 to 9 months. The fruit from the plant looks like a long legume. Just before the fruits are ripe, they are harvested in order to ripe further for 18 to 34 months. This way the vanilla crystals arise. What we know as vanilla sticks are the dried fruits/legumes from this orchid.
You have many types of vanilla, but in practice only two types get used in most of the flavouring and dying industry.
- Vanilla planifolia, also referred to as bourbon-vanilla,
- Vanilla tahitiensis, used in lesser amounts.
The production of natural vanilla is expensive and time consumer, also because it produces relatively little (in grams). This makes it, apart from saffron, the most valuable herb. Scientists have analysed up to 171 different ingredients in the vanilla. Vanilline and heliotropine are the most important of these ingredients with regards to scent and applications. The most vanilla in perfumes and aromas is now synthetic and usually mostly consists out of vanilline. The most synthetic vanilline is made from the rest-streams of the wood/paper production.
How does it smell?
Vanilla smells sweet, balsamic, somewhat spicy and soft.
How is it used?
Vanilla is a very famous flavouring to be used in foods. Examples are products such as ice, yoghurt, custard and drinks. Vanilla is also added to powdered baby milk in many countries. For many people the scent of vanilla therefore represents domesticity and security. In perfumes vanilla can mostly be found in oriental fragrances.