Thought of the Week: Vanilla




Today, I would like to tell you a thing or two about vanilla and without much introduction, I will jump right into this Thought of the Week. Lean back and let yourself be carried away to the world of the queen of spices.


The vanilla is, as befits a queen, the fruit of a flower. More specifically, the capsule (another capsule falsely referred to as a pod just like okra) of an evergreen climbing orchid. Native to Mexico, it arrived with the Spaniards in Europe in the 16th century. In the following three centuries many attempted to grow vanilla plants in other parts of the world, but nobody succeed until the 19th century. From then on fertilization, in Central America the duty of a certain bee species and hummingbirds, were performed by hand. Thus, vanilla became one of the most beloved spices in the world.

The vanilla flavor is highly complex and is based on its ingredient vanillin, whereby the highest concentration can be found in the outer part of the capsule. If I had to describe the aroma, I would say it is:

– fine

– aromatic sweet

– harmonic

– intensive


Altogether there are about 150 types of vanilla. The two most important and best known are:

  • Bourbon vanilla (vanilla planifolia) – thin capsule with an intense vanilla flavor
  • Tahitian vanilla (vanilla tahitensis) – thick capsules with lower vanillin content and a floral aroma


Vanilla is grown in plantations. The main growing areas today are Madagascar, Comoros and La Reunion (formerly Ile de Bourbon – hence the name bourbon vanilla).

After three years, the vanilla plant bears sweet-scented flowers for the first time, which already fade after 12 hours. The vanilla farmers must be vigilant and fast in order to be successful with the artificial pollination at all. After a few weeks, a fruit is produced on successful fertilization and 8 to 9 months later the thin, up to 12” long capsule.

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron. Reasons for the high price are:

– pollination by hand

– long, time-consuming processing during which the aroma unfolds that involves harvest by hand -> treatment with heat -> fermentation -> drying -> storage


For the Aztecs Vanilla was important as a remedy, aphrodisiac or just to spice up their cocoa. Today, vanilla is used in many different ways such as sweet and savory cooking, the beverage industry (fun fact: Coca Cola and Pepsi are the largest vanilla buyers in the world), the chocolate industry, etc.

If you want to use fresh vanilla capsules make sure to get capsules that are

– dark brown

– pliable

– oily

– not dry

If the vanilla capsule is coated with white spots, it isn’t mold what you’re seeing but vanilla crystals, which are a special quality feature. Store your vanilla cool, dark and airtight.

To use vanilla at home, cut the capsule lengthwise and scrape the seeds out. The scraped-out capsules can be reused: wash and dry, boil in liquid or mix with sugar for real vanilla sugar.

To revive a tried out vanilla capsule, place it in a warm water bath for a few minutes and place overnight with a sliced apple in an airtight container to draw moisture.