Did you know that vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family? It’s an extremely valuable crop. Vanilla rustling has always been a concern to growers Thus beans may be branded when they are still green. While the plant stock is native to Mexico, beans are also grown in places like Indonesia, Madagascar, and Tahiti. Variations in soil and climate account for the differences in flavor.
Legend says coffee originated in the Land of the Resplendent Moon. The ruler was blessed with a beautiful daughter, who dedicated her life to serve the goddess of crops. One day while gathering flowers in the forest, the girl came upon a young prince. They fell in love and ran away together. The priests caught them and beheaded the doomed couple. In the spot where their blood spilled, a bush grew. A vine sprang from the earth and twisted around the bush like a pair of embracing lovers. Orchids sprouted on the vine, and when the flowers died, slender green beans developed. Thus vanilla was born from the blood of a princess.
Ninety-seven percent of the vanilla used today is synthetic. Vanillin is the organic component mimicked in synthetics, but natural beans contain additional elements that cannot be duplicated. Thus natural vanilla has a much richer smell and taste. You can tell real vanilla extract if the label says it contains 35% alcohol. Vanilla bought in other countries may be synthetic and/or contain unknown additives.
The current annual demand for natural vanilla is for 2200 tons. Besides playing a role in the food industry and in perfume making, vanilla has industrial applications. It makes medicines taste better and covers the smell of tires, paint, and other household products. So next time you have an upset stomach, sip a cola drink. These contain vanilla, which calms the digestion.
Amateur sleuth and hairstylist Marla Shore discusses the vanilla industry with a grower in KILLER KNOTS, my cruise ship mystery available in stores now. Please look for a copy if you want to read more about this fragrant spice.
Nancy J. Cohen