Vanilla refers not only to the plant itself but the flavor and scent associated with the plant’s seed pods and flowers. It has a very distinct sweet, floral flavor and aroma.
This plant has uses in an array of items that range from confectionary and candles to perfume, cigars, and haute cuisine, amongst several others.
Vanilla forms part of the orchid family, which is a sprawling conglomeration of approximately 25,000 species. The plant is native to South and Central America along with the Caribbean. It was first cultivated by the Totonacs, who inhabited East Coast Mexico.
This plant was acquired by the Aztecs when they conquered the Totonacs in the 15th century. The Spanish then received it when they conquered the Aztecs. Until the 17th century, vanilla was thought of as nothing more than an additive for chocolate. Today, it has a variety of uses.
What are vanilla beans, and how are they used?
Vanilla beans consist of a waxy pod, which is dark brown in color and is filled with thousands of little brown specks that are incredibly flavorful.
Just like one would find different types of coffee, there are also numerous types of beans, such as:
- Madagascar, or bourbon vanilla, which is a creamy and rich bean;
- Indian, which has a full and chocolaty vanilla flavor;
- Tonga, with similarities to figs and raisins with an earthy flavor;
- Mexican, which has a bold and dark flavor with smoky overtones;
- Tahitian, which is a lot more floral and has hints of cherry and chocolate flavor
- Indonesian, which is generally well-balanced and mild, and;
- Ugandan, which is less common but still worth considering.
Vanilla beans can be used when baking by splitting the pod to get to the seeds or peeling the two sides of the pod outward with the side of a blade and digging out the seeds.
Beans can also be used for flavoring by adding it to puddings, custards, and other recipes that have a milky base. Split beans can be added to sugar or coffee beans for that extra bit of flavor.
Why is vanilla so expensive?
After saffron, vanilla is one of the most expensive spices. It has been the most popular spice in the world since the 16th century, and even though it is a sought-after and well-loved flavor, the price has already surpassed that of silver, near to the price of gold.
Various factors determine the price of vanilla, even though it is such a readily available flavor. One of the main reasons is that it is extremely difficult to grow, and the plant needs just the right conditions to grow and thrive.
The vines of the plant take up to five years to mature, and for only one day a year, the flowers of the plant bloom, which spells trouble when it comes to pollination as there is an extremely narrow time frame in which it can occur.
The beans take up to nine months to grow, and they are handpicked, making harvesting labor-intensive. The curing process that the beans go through comprises of the blanching, sweating and drying out of the beans, which takes several more months.
Thankfully, new technology has reduced the curing time down to as little as three weeks. Still, unfortunately, plants grow in an old-fashioned way, and patience quite literally is a virtue when it comes to one of the most popular flavors which are in high demand across the globe.
When it comes to the price-tag on vanilla, it also depends on the type of vanilla depending on its grade and origin.
What is the craze surrounding beans about?
Vanilla not only tastes amazing, but it is one of the many superfoods out there. Due to hectic lifestyles, more people are incorporating members of the superfood family into daily meals to reap the benefits and counter the effects of unhealthy food consumed.
Vanilla has an array of health benefits that people may not know about. It tastes great, and it’s good for you? Impossible! But in all honesty, it has been scientifically proven to have several health benefits, such as:
- Reducing acne
- Improving hair growth
- Speeding up healing
- Reducing inflammation
- Preventing chronic diseases
- Protecting the heart and several more.
2. It’s not a treasure hunt to get your hands on them
Vanilla is readily available at stores and can be purchased on various websites to be delivered to their doorstep. Some sites offer quality vanilla beans at competitive prices, such as Native Vanilla.
3. Beans have a variety of applications
Beans most popularly have culinary uses, especially when making sweet foods, or flavoring drinks with that distinct and loved flavor. Seeds are also used in cosmetics, with the extract being added to hygiene and beauty products.
The essential oil can be combined with a carrier oil and used to strengthen hair and induce blood flow to the scalp, which encourages growth and the production of healthier hair.
Medicinal properties also make it to the list of applications in that beans have analgesic properties that relieve coughs, colds, sore throats, and infections associated with the respiratory system. Vanilla beans also have antibacterial properties that remove underlying diseases in the body.
4. Vanilla has been popular for centuries
Despite the price-tags and the tedious task of successfully growing and curing beans, vanilla has remained popular for so long. It will continue to be a favorite in every home, not only in America but right around the world in the foreseeable future. With so many variations of beans that are readily available in-store and online, it has a well-deserved place in every spice rack.