July 28, 2013
Vanilla “beans” are the seed-containing pods produced by the vines of vanilla orchids. This pod in particular is from the most common type of vanilla, the Mexican Vanilla planifolia.
Other species exist, but production is limited by the necessary hand-pollination when grown outside their natural habitat. (Other locations are without a species of bee that is the only natural pollinator.) All other plants have the same thing in common: the presence of a flavor compound known as vanillin.
Because of labor-intensive nature of hand-pollination, pods from v. planifolia account for the vast majority of natural vanilla. Mexico had been the leading producer until Madagascar took that title. Still, vanilla is the world’s second most expensive spice (after saffron), so its no surprise that over 95% of the vanilla used is actually derived from lignin.
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