Vanilla is the only fruit-bearing member of the orchid family. It has an incredible and fascinating history of over 2000 years. The large orchid plants bear a small creamy/yellow flower and on the day of opening the flower must be hand pollinated.
Once pollination is completed, in approximately nine months, a fully grown green bean is ready to be picked. This green bean then undergoes a complex and often guarded drying and curing process where the flavour develops and the bean turns dark brown/black. It is one of the most labour intensive agricultural crops in the world.
The flavour and fragrance of Vanilla varies according to where it is grown. There are four main Vanilla regions: Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla, Indonesian Vanilla, Mexican Vanilla and Tahitian Vanilla.
Heilala Vanilla is the Bourbon variety, often called Madagascar Bourbon vanilla. It is described as creamy, sweet, and rich. The French planted the cuttings from Mexico in Madagascar and Reunion (formerly known as Ie de Bourbon) over 300 years ago and now eighty percent of the worlds vanilla crop is Madagascar Bourbon.
Mexican vanilla, the original home of vanilla, is known for being creamy, sweet, with a hint of nutmeg and clove notes. Tahitian Vanilla Beans are typically shorter with thicker walls than bourbon vanilla and have fewer seeds. They have a sweet and fruity cherry like flavour. Tahitian vanilla is grown in Tahiti and also in other areas such as PNG and Asia.
98% of the world's vanilla consumption is artificial, only 2% is real. Products that are labelled as vanilla essence are typically imitation vanilla, a man-made chemical compound that mimics the flavour and aroma of vanilla. It is commonly manufactured from by products of either the paper industry or from coal tar.