Vanilla-What is it?

This is the first of a short series about everyone’s favorite flavor, vanilla.

Vanilla originally came from Mexico. It was discovered Native Peoples and then the Spaniards (who started trading it to the Old World and generated a huge market for it along with chocolate, another Mexican New World good).

The name, vanilla, comes from the female body part and it is named that because of its resemblance. Vanilla is made in the seed pod of the vanilla orchid. The pod is picked and often stored in a closed box until the characteristic flavor and smell develop. You get vanilla flavoring from splitting open the cured seed pods, and scraping out the tiny seeds and pulp from the inside. The sticky paste and seeds are often blended with alcohol to make vanilla extract. It is a time consuming process, as is the pollinating of the flowers which is normally done by hand as well. In the wild a certain species of bees performs the job of pollination but vanilla is grown in areas without those sorts of bees so growers have had to resort to the hand pollinating method.

Vanilla is grown in Mexico (considered the best quality), Tahiti, and Madagascar most famously. It is considered the most popular flavoring agent in the world and is highly prized in perfumery.

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