Nearly everyone has gotten a taste or whiff of vanilla, either in its extract form or in whole dried pods. Vanilla is used in a variety of products including ice cream, cakes and pudding. It's also used to enhance the smells of fine perfumes. However, most people don't even know where this vanilla taste comes from. It's actually from the orchid Vanilla Planifolia, which are a South American flower and discovered by a Mexican tribe called the Totonacs.
A Broad Look At Vanilla Planifolia
How The Orchid Thrives
Vanilla Planifolia can survive in daylight temperatures of no more than 90 degrees. However, it can survive in the nighttime hours with temperatures hovering around 60 degrees to 70 degrees. Humidity levels must be in the 80 percent range. This type of orchid prefers to develop in high places like trees because they keep the sunlight from falling directly upon it. However, in agriculture, Vanilla Planifloria grows on canes or other supportive elements, which can give it the needed altitude.
How It Continues To Exist
The orchid is held up by root extensions, which interweaves around the support frame. The blossoms of this orchid do not live very long, usually no more than a day. It is very important that the Vanilla Planifolia is pollinated by the Melipone bee before it dies. Before the mid-1800s, it was not possible for the orchids to grow outside of Mexico since this was the location of the Melipone bee. However, the hand (artificial) pollination method was soon discovered around this time and changed how and where the Vanilla Planifolia grew. Today, this orchid type can be found in many countries such as China, Indonesia and Madagascar.
Giving Credit To Two People For Artificial Pollination
When you take a gander at who created artificial pollination, two people came up with the idea within years of one another. The first person to give credit to is botanist Charles Morren who, in the mid 1830s, watched bees perform the pollination task. The second person to give the credit to is Edmond Albius, who was just an adolescent slave boy. Five years after Morren conceptualized the artificial pollination idea, Albius created a way that successfully performed hand pollination. Keep in mind that these two probably never met but were able to come up with similar ideas within years of one another.
After Pollination Has Occurred
Once pollination has taken place, the orchid will develop seedpods that contain unique black vanilla seeds. This pod should not be taken from the orchid stem until it's ripe. It takes nine months for the pod to ripen and when it does so, it has a yellowish shade on its end. If the pod is still a dark green color, the pod still needs to ripen.
The timing for harvesting these pods needs to be just right. If they are picked too late, they'll begin to crack, exposing the seeds and reducing their worth. Since this process must be done manually and so quickly, many workers need to be involved in the task.
Once the Vanilla Planfolia has been harvested, the seeds will stop growing when introduced to an extreme temperature change, whether this is freezing cold temperatures or boiling hot ones. Then they are sweated out, dried and left alone in wooden boxes for some amount of time so that a flavor will develop.
There is an overwhelming demand for vanilla in the world, which makes it so expensive. Due to the expense, there are many artificial chemicals that try to copy the vanilla taste; however, the taste is noticeable for anyone who has tried both.
If it were not for a young child to come up with this hand pollination technique, this vanilla substance would have stayed an exotic opulence most people would never have known about. Think about that as you get to experience real vanilla: all the hard and tedious work that it takes to make this resilient orchid a taste to bring to your kitchen/dining room table.