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Vanilla planifolia

Family: Orchidaceae | Place of Origin: Madagascar, Central America

Origins and history:   

Vanilla is believed to have originated from Mesoamerica, which is the region of common day Central America. The Totonac people of Papantla were the first group to cultivate vanilla, and it played a huge role in their culture (Lubinsky et. al. 2008). In the 18th century, this region became the first and only to produce vanilla for the international market. Europe was the primary market for vanilla, where the flavor was used for mostly making of sweets (Bruman 1948). In the 19th century French colonies boomed in vanilla production, and Madagascar became the major supplier of vanilla and is to this day.

Identification characteristics  

Uses and preparation

Vanilla must undergo an extensive process to become suitable for market consumption. It first must be harvested off the plant, at which point the pod is green and lacks flavor and aroma. The pods must then be killed to prevent further ripening. The pods can then begin their curing process, which can take up to months to complete. After vanilla is cured, it is most used as an extract or a concentrate. Vanilla can be found in numerous foods and is an essential component of many sweets. Along with food uses, vanilla is used for its scent in many colognes, perfumes, and other household items like candles and soaps.