From orchid to spice – how vanilla is made

The lovely smell of aromatic vanilla comes from a tropical orchid.

The orchid is a creeper, able to climb 20-30 m up the stems. The leaves are thick and meaty, the flowers are yellow or green/yellow. The flowers are open in only two-three hours, early in the morning, where you are able to pollinate it. The first flowers occurs three/four years after planting.

Supporttrees are needed, so the vanilla plant can grow downwards and make loops to become stronger and start producing.


The Aztech called the plant “Tlilxochitl” (black flower), implying to the dark colour of the vanillarods.

The Aztechs added vanilla to their cocoadrink, as a sweetener.

It’s belived, that the Totonak-indians from Vera Cruz in Mexico were the first to grow, harvest, ferment and dry the vanillarods. They considered the vanilla as a gift from the gods.

In 1520, Montezuma, the ruling aztek af Mexico, served a drink for the spanish conquerer Hernan Cortes.

Cortes transported cocoa and vanilla to Europe in the 18th century, and from there to the islands in the Indian Ocean.


In Fiji there are certain bees, who can pollinate the vanilla, like in Mexico, where you can find both a bee and a hummingbird, able to pollinate the vanilla.

In order to make the pollination more efficient, the women in our fijian village chooses to handpollinate the flowers. One of our women are able to pollinate 250 flowers in an hour!

After pollination, the fruit – called beans – develops. They are 10-25 cm long, 8-15 mm diameter, cylindrical, and contain thousands of tiny round black seeds.
5-6 months later the tip of the beans turns to yellowish and are ready to harvest.

From plant to vanilla

The vanillarods are scalded in water at 65 deg, to activate the aroma and terminate the maturation.
Then the beans are kept warm for 48 hours and the next 12-15 days dried in the sun for 1-2 hours. The beans needs the sun to develop vanilla-aroma. In fact, there are more flavour in the vanilla rods, than in the small grains inside it, so be sure to use everything!

Now the beans are ready for indoor drying, lasting 1- 3 months.

In recent times, a new technique have develop: Drying the vanilla in ovens. It’s especially used in India and Indonesia. It is faster and makes the vanilla cheaper, but it makes the flavour pale and boring. The method was developed, due to high demands for vanilla.

The propagation of vanilla

In the early days the vanilla only existed in Mexico. The vanilla was later spread by the seafarers and spread out in tropical rainforest around equator.


Vanilla is the most requested flavour in the world, but only a very small part, 1%, comes from the vanillaorchid, 99% are synthic vanilla. Anyway, the price are like gold…


According to Danwatch, vanilla pods in Denmark originate from poor and indebted farmers where child labor is prevalent. Even though vanilla is the world’s second most expensive spice, vanilla farmers in Madagascar live in great poverty. The farmers cannot afford sufficient food, and to make ends meet, they must let their children work.

Vanilla in Danish supermarkets often comes from the large island in the Indian Ocean and is likely produced with child labor. This is stated by the watchdog Danwatch.

The major supermarket chains in Denmark cannot trace their vanilla and do not know where it comes from. Therefore, they cannot guarantee that the vanilla is not produced by children or stolen from the farmers.

Read more in the Danwatch report here. The above text is a quote from the article. 80% of the world’s vanilla comes from Madagascar.


Therefore, we are very proud to present the finest bourbon vanilla pods produced by local Fijian women to you. We can guarantee 100% that our vanilla is neither stolen nor made by children. In Fiji, ALL children go to school, even the children from the bush. Fijians are a proud people and very committed to providing their children with an education.

We know the women and know where the vanilla grows. We live on a cocoa farm OFF (OlsenFijiFarm) in the village of Namau. We pay the women directly and at a higher kilo price than usual, so they now have an income they can live on. It is the women’s own money, which they can use as they please. Typically, the money goes towards new school uniforms, extra food, and other essential necessities. We have become part of the village community and are welcomed with “welcome home.” When we travel, the women sing a typical Fijian multi-part farewell song for us. Very beautiful and very touching.

We are deeply grateful to have been given this unique opportunity to make a difference. Buy the vanilla and support the development of the village.