Vanilla is a complex mix of many compounds, such as
vanillin and related esters.
Vanilla is sold in many forms, such as the vanilla bean, vanilla
extract, and vanilla sugar.
The vanilla bean is the fruit of the orchid Vanilla planifolia,
a native of Mexico, but now grown in many tropical countries such as
Madagascar, Tahiti, and Java.
The flowers of the vanilla orchid are pollinated by local Mexican bees
and hummingbirds, and until a hand pollination method was developed,
the seed capsules could only be farmed in Mexico.
Orchid flowers bloom one per day, and a good hand pollinator can
pollinate between 1,000 and 2,000 plants a day. The seeds ripen
about nine months after they are pollinated.
The seed pods are picked when they turn yellow, and dried in the
sun during the day, then placed in straw or blankets in airtight
boxes to "sweat" and ferment overnight.
The sun drying, boxing, and fermenting process is repeated many times
for over a month, and the result is black seed pods that are then
thoroughly dried, boxed, and cured for a few months before being
The long fermenting process converts several glucosides into glucose,
vanillin, and other complex aromatic flavors.
The vanilla beans can be further processed by extracting soluble
compounds in ethanol and water mixtures, resulting in vanilla extract.
Vanilla is used in many products, usually sweetened foods, and
scented products, such as perfumes and candles.
Like coffee, wine, and chocolate, vanilla grown in one location
tastes different than that grown in another location. Many
confectioners prefer the vanilla grown in Madagascar, known as Bourbon
Vanilla, to be the best tasting, with a fruity "top note".
Like Java coffee, the vanilla grown in Indonesia has a simpler
flavor, and is used in baking where any top notes would be baked
out of the product by the high heat.
Mexican vanillas are often described as "spicy". Tahitian vanilla
is said to have flowery, soft flavors, resembling root beer (somewhat
of a circular reference, since most root beer contains vanilla).
There are also blended vanillas, mixing beans from various locations.
ethyl vanillin: InChI=1/C9H10O3/c1-2-12-9-5-7(6-10)3-4-8(9)11/h3-6,11H,2H2,1H3
By Simon Quellen Field