Vanilla

Watch the pollination of the orchid that generates the vanilla

VANILLA PLANIFOLIA
From the bean to the Vanilla
 
The vanilla planifolia or fragans (Mexican type or bourbon) traces its origins to Mexico. It's the most known vanilla in the haute cuisine world. It's cultivated in Madagascar and the surroundings of the Indic Ocean. The Orchid Vanilla Planifolia is a special orchid because it generates a fruit: the vanilla bean. It weights around 5gr after the drying process. The fructification occurs between 9 and 10 months after the pollination, and the fruits are harvested when its colors change from light green to dark green. They must be harvested at that stage to avoid losses, otherwise they open letting the seeds fall back in the soil.
 
But that's not enough. In natura, the beans present no smell, because the flower gets all the perfume. To acquire the vanilla scent, one must submit the beans to a very long drying process, from which the main active principle of the perfume is activated: a chemical substance, known as aldehyde, called vanillin.
 
This complex drying process varies from the production region, but the basic principle is to treat the beans with heat, and the dehydrate them. The beans dehydrate in approximately 30 days, but it still takes them 6 to 7 months to be ready for consumption. During that waiting period of time, a natural process of chemical reaction will cover the seeds in the bean's interior with vanillin crystals, finally releasing the well-known vanilla perfume.
 
The Aztecs were the ones who developed this beans' drying technique, making them ferment and dry many times, until the crystalized seeds would take form. 

 

BLACK GOLD

 

5 to 6kg of green vanilla are necessary to obtain 1kg of vanilla ready to market. Its prices match the complexity involved, vanilla being the 3rd most expensive spice in the world - saffron (the red gold) is the 1st, cardamom comes 2nd.
 
Vanilla's quality is measured by shiny black beans; the ones with bigger diameter tend to have more seeds in it. It's essentially the seeds that concentrate the vanilla aroma. That only goes for the real natural bean. But in 1874 the German chemist Wilhelm Haarmann created the synthetic vanilla essence; and this alternative has almost no resemblance to the real natural thing.
 
In ancient medical literature, vanilla appears as aphrodisiac, anti-thermic and stimulant. In the tropical regions of Mexico, it's used against the venom of some poisonous animals bites. But these alleged effects were never scientifically proved. In nowadays medicine, vanilla has been used to flavor cough syrups.
 
As the expensive spice that it is, vanilla is broadly used to flavor ice creams, chocolates, drinks and other patisserie delicacies.
 

RECIPE using Vanilla Bourbon Beans

How to preserve your Vanilla Beans:

It's very important to follow these measures in order to preserve your vanilla beans aromatic properties.
 
1 Store your beans in dark glass food containers, very clean and dry, protected from light or intense heat.
 
2 At least once every 2 weeks, you should open your jar to renovate the air supply in it.
 

3 Do not store your beans in the fridge. Never. Because the cold will cause unwanted chemical changes in your beans.

Harmonization:

Vanilla doesn't go with red meat, with too strong flavor. It also isn't recommended its use with garlic or onions.
 
Vanilla goes well with: lemon, tomatoes, salt, pepper, vegetables, fish, rose meats, birds; as well as sauces and salads. 
 

AZTEC TREASURE 

Vanilla is natural at Mexico Southeast, Guatemala, and other Central America regions. These pre-Colombian civilizations already knew it: they called it "Tlilxochitl" or "Xahanat" (the black flower). The Aztecs used it to aromatize and enhance chocolate flavor, which they considered a sacred drink (chocolatl). It was with chocolate that emperor Montezuma generously manifested hospitality from his people to Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés, without ever imagining the type of retribution the future would bring him.
 
Vanilla's aroma fascinated the Spanish, who arrived in XVIa.c. at Central America. Fascinated with the exotic spice, they had no doubt: when they came back to Spain, they brought little orchids of the fabulous discovery. It is said amongst Latin historians that the only treasure Spain didn't take from the Aztecs was the Vanilla, because all their attempts to cultivate it were frustrated once in Spanish soil.
Vanilla is an orchid, and has received its name Vanilla Planifolia in Mexico. Like any other orchid, it's beautiful and temperamental. Its flowers only open in first hours of the morning and remain so for 8 hours tops. In this short period of time, the Mexican bees, and only them, need to fly really quickly to pollinate the flowers. It's during this process that the Vanilla Beans are born and grow to become mature enough for harvesting.
 
So, the orchids grew up just fine in Spain, becoming beautiful flowers, but no beans were spotted. The reason for that was the lack of the right pollinator insect. The flower possesses a membrane separating the masculine reproduction organ from the feminine one, which makes pollination more difficult. And these pollinator Mexican bees are so specific, that they didn’t exist outside the original orchid habitat.
 
In 1841, a young 12 year old slave, called Edmond Albius discovered the technique of manual pollination. His discovery made possible, in 1848, for the French to export from Réunion around 50 beans. Due to the great success of the French cultivation, the culture of Vanilla was introduced in the neighborhood islands (Madagascar, Comores and Santa Maria). In 1898 tons of beans were produced by the French colonies.
 
The discovery of artificial pollination and the sale of seedlings allowed the development of commercial cultivation of the Vanilla in the tropical regions and - besides France - England and Belgium cultivated this orchid in many of their colonies. The manual pollination method is still used to this day to cultivate the Vanilla orchid.
 
Nowadays, they are in tropical and subtropical regions around the world (Indonesia, South America, Central America, Mexico and Africa). Madagascar, together with its surroundings Comores and Réunion, are responsible for 905 of the world production - calculated in around 12 thousand tons a year. Uganda and Congo are also producers. And in Brazil, the vanilla has been cultivated with great success in artisanal farms at the South of Bahia State.
 
The larger producer in the world is Madagascar, and the South of Bahia State has extremely similar climate and soil conditions to those found in Madagascar. We are also in search of new haute cuisine treasures; and we were more than pleased to find the black gold being cultivated following the highest standards right here in Brazil. 
 

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