From orchid to spice – how vanilla is made
The fragrant, aromatic vanilla comes from a tropical orchid.
The orchid is a creeper, climbing up the trees in the rainforest, as high as 20-30 meters. The leaves are thick and fleshy and the flowers are usually yellow or green/yellow. The flowers exists only a day and opens just a few hours in the morning, which is the right time for pollination. The first flowers appears app. 3 years after planting.
If the vanilla keeps growing upwards, it will not create flowers (and rods).
You need to have support-trees, so the vanilla are looped and forced to grow downwards. Then it will flourish.
The Aztec named the vanilla: Tlilxochitl – ”black flower”, referring to the dark coloured vanilla rods.
They applied vanilla into the drink of cocoa, “Xocoatl”, for a better taste.
Its believed, that the Totonak-indians from Vera Cruz in Mexico, were the first to grow, harvest, fermented and dried vanillarods. They considered the vanilla as a gift from the gods.
In 1520 Montezuma, Mexico’s ruling aztec, served a drink to the spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes.
Cortes brought cocoa and vanilla to Europe in the 18. century. And from there to the islands in the Indian Ocean.
In Fiji a certain bee-species exists, which is able to pollinate the vanilla orchid. Likewise in Mexico, there is also a bee and a hummingbird able to do the job.
The women handpollinate the flowers in order to get maximum result. If too many rods grow on the same plant, it will die…
One of our women, can pollinate up to 100 flowers/hour. Five months later, when the tip slowly turns yellow, it is harvesttime.
From plant to vanilla – killing/curing
For activating the flavours, the vanilla are cooked at 65 C in 2-4 minutes – killing.
The fermentation/curing is an enzymatic process. The warm vanillarods are wrapped in cloths, to keep the temperature stabil for the first week.
Then the rods must dry/mature for the next 10-12 weeks. Exposed in the sun for 1-2 hours daily and packed in boxes the rest of the time for sweating. The enzymes will slowly develop the vanilla seeds, the flavour and the dark colour.
At the end, the rods are sorted by length, colour and weight.
How the vanilla are spread
At first, the vanilla only existed i Mexico. Later, the seafarers took the plant and spread it in tropical rainforestareas around equator. It grows in 600 m altitude and needs nutricious soil with slopes.
The pollination requires a ceratin bee: The Melipone-bee. Its pollinating technique were discovered by a native in Reunion. Soon the plant were spread out here and in Madagascar.
After that it came to the Comoros, Indonesia, India and Tahiti.
Recently, a new method have developed: Drying the vanlla in ovens, especially in India and Indonesia this method are used. The result are dull rods with very little flavour.
A quick, but bad method, that evolved from a high demand for vanilla.
The vanilla neds sun for developing vanilin.
Vanilla are the most sought aroma, but only a very small part of it, app. 1 (one) % comes from the vanillaorchid.
The rest are synthetic…
The value of vanilla is the as gold, because you only harvest once a year and processing it, is difficult and under great influence of the weather.
According to Danwatch, most of the vanilla comes from poor areas with a lot of childlabour.
Though vanilla is a very expensive spice, the vanillagrowers in Madagascar lives in great poverty.The farmers cannot support themselves and they have to let their children work in the fields in stead of attending school.
Vanilla in danish supermarkets often comes from the big island in the Indian Ocean and are most likely produced by the small hands of children.
The big supermarketchains are unable to trace the vanilla and dont know where it comes from. Thus they can’t guarantee, whether the vanilla are produced from childlabour or stolen from the farmers.
Read more in Danwatch report at https//globalnyt.dk/content/danwatch-din -vanilje-stammer-fra-fattige-og-gældsatte-b….
The information above are quoted from that article.
80% af verdens vanilje stammer fra Madagaskar.
We are very proud to introduce the most aromatic and best looking bourbon-vanilla to you, produced by local Fiji-women.
We provide a 100% guarantee, that our vanilla neither are stolen or made from childlabour.
In Fiji ALL children attende school, even the bush-children.Fijians are proud and very concerned in educating their children.
We know the women and where the vanilla grows, we pay directly to the women and at a higher price, than they are used to, making them able to support themselves. They can use their money, whatever they feel for, typically school uniforms or other necessities.
We have become a part of the village and are greated with a “Welcome home!” when we arrive, and when we leave, they sing a traditional fijian polyphonic goodbye-song for us. Very beautiful and touching.
We are deeply greateful having this unique opportunity to make a difference..
Buy this vanilla and support the development in the village.