Description: The only member of the vast orchid family that's cultivated for a commercial product rather than as an ornamental. It is a climbing vine that needs a supporting wall or tree trunk into which the vine sends tiny but strong hooks.
Vanilla is one of the world's most important flavorings. It was introduced to Europe in the 16th century by the Spanish (Fernando Cortez), who found it used by the Aztecs as a flavoring for chocolate. It remained a mystery for almost 300 years as to why the plant did not set fruits until a hand-pollination method was developed on the island of La Réunion.
In cultivation, Vanilla must be pollinated by hand to produce fruits (vanilla pods), which take eight to nine months to ripen. The aromatic compounds are developed during a long and troublesome fermentation period of the unripe pods. The fruits contain about 3.5 percent vanillin. Tahitian vanilla (Vanilla tahitensis) and West Indian vanilla (Vanilla pompona) are alternative inferior sources of vanilla.
Synonyms: Bourbon vanilla (from Madagascar and La Réunion)
Origin: native to Central and South America and Mexico, now cultivated in Madagascar (the largest producer by far), the West Indies, La Réunion, Tahiti, Java, Seychelles, etc.
Parts Used: fruits (pods)
Aroma Description: rich, sweet, somewhat woody and animal-like, slightly tobacco-like, with a deep balsamic, sweets-spicy body
Cosmetic Uses: perfumery, aromatherapy; used in potpourris, candles, room fragrances, etc.
Culinary Uses: used to flavor ice cream, chocolate, yogurt, desserts, syrups, cakes, candy, cereals, soft drinks, liqueurs (Galliano), fruits, tobacco, etc.
Medicinal Attributes: improves digestion
Element Association: Water
Magical Associations: see emotions - strengthening, etc.
Planetary Association: Venus
Aromatic Note: Base note
Essential Oil: Yes; absolutes, extracts, resinoids and tinctures are all manufactured, though are often adulterated and do not share the full aromatic qualities of the ripen fruits. A far inferior synthetic vanillin is often used in the perfumery and flavorings trades.
Mixes Well With: benzoin, cassia, cinnamon, cloves, copal-black, mugwort, nutmeg, opoponax, palo santo wood, sandalwood, storax, sweetgrass, tolu balsam, tonka beans, vetiver, copaiba and Peru balsams, etc.
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