Vanilla Seasonality : As the only variety out of 25,000 species of orchids that develops a useful product for food purposes, vanilla is literally unique – and it could hardly be more exotic: it is one of the most complex flavors in existence (with over 200 aromatic compounds), it is the second most expensive spice in the world (after saffron), and its history is steeped in intrigue, ancient civilizations, piracy, and brutal conquests.
The beginning of vanilla
The saga begins in the 15th century in the mountainous regions of Mexico, where a tribe known as the Totonaques were the first known civilization to cultivate vanilla beans. They used them primarily for medicinal or religious purposes, rather than culinary. But even without tasting the glorious taste of vanilla, the Totonaques believed it was a gift from the gods. Literally. In the Totonaque tradition, « vanilla » orchids were said to have sprouted from the blood of a runaway deity because of her forbidden love with a prince.
Where vanilla grows
Today, vanilla production takes place in many tropical countries. The main producers of this culinary ingredient are « Mexico, Brazil, Madagascar, Tahiti, Comoros, Reunion, Indonesia, Guatemala and India ».
Mexico’s neighbors are the United States of America, Belize and Guatemala. It is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. This may seem surprising and call into question the existence of plantations, as the land is deserted and the climate is dry. However, the Maya were able to locate their colonies in the lowlands of the Pacific Ocean in order to receive more rain. Living in the rainforests allowed the Maya to cultivate vanilla. The presence of water was the key factor, which affected the ability to have plantations in Mexico.
Brazil is also located in South America and has « common borders with all South American countries, except Ecuador and Chile ». The country is located on the Atlantic Ocean. The location on the ocean also allows Brazil to maintain a balance between drought and humidity. This aspect helps to understand the reasons for the establishment of Brazil as one of the main exporters of vanilla.
Guatemala is another vanilla producer, located in South America. It borders Mexico, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador. As far as geographical areas are concerned, Guatemala’s territory includes different variants starting with tropical rainforests and ending with « snowy volcanic peaks ». One could assume that Guatemala is a successful exporter of vanilla, as it is located in favorable geographical conditions.
As for Indonesia, it is located on the islands. Therefore, Indonesia is surrounded by water on all sides. In addition, the country is located in an active seismic zone, as there are many active and inactive volcanoes. It is well known that the geographical location vehemently affects the climate of the country. In the case of Indonesia, located in the subtropical zone, the climate is humid. These factors explain the presence of vanilla plantations in Indonesia, because the conditions are favorable for the cultivation of this spice.
Madagascar, Tahiti, Comoros and Reunion
Madagascar, Tahiti, Comoros and Reunion Island are evaluated simultaneously, as these countries have similar geographical characteristics. All the countries presented are located on islands. Therefore, their climate favors the rapid growth of vanilla and multiple harvesting procedures during the season.
The climate of vanilla
Vanilla is grown in tropical and subtropical climates in rainforests. In fact, vanilla grows best in a warm, humid climate from sea level to an altitude of 1,500 meters. The ideal climate has moderate rainfall, from 1,500 to 3,000 mm, evenly distributed over 10 months of the year. Optimal temperatures for cultivation are 15 to 30 °C during the day and 15 to 20 °C at night.
Ideal humidity is about 80%, and under normal greenhouse conditions this can be achieved by an evaporative cooler. However, since greenhouse vanilla is grown near the equator and under a polymer net (50% shade), this humidity can be achieved by the environment. The most successful vanilla cultivation and processing is done in the region between 10 and 20° from the equator.
The flowers and the fruit of the vanilla
The flowers of the vanilla planifolia variety are large and fragrant. Creamy green waxy sepals form on the axillary inflorescences. The flowers of vanilla pompona are yellow compared to vanilla planifolia.
The flowers can grow to about 6 to 8 cm in length and about 5 to 10 cm in diameter. Two of the petals resemble the sepals. The third petal is modified into a lip shape.
Vanilla tends to bloom on larger vines. Flowering usually occurs over a period of about 2 months, once a year, but each flower of the species vanilla planifolia lasts only one day. After pollination, the ovary swells to produce a long seed capsule (green pods) that can grow to about 20 cm in length and takes 8-9 months to mature.
The pods contain thousands of tiny, round, black seeds.
The vanilla harvest: from flowers to black vanilla
Vanilla beans start out as delicate yellow flowers until they become mature vanilla beans. Care must be taken not to harvest the vanilla pods prematurely as this undeniably has a negative impact on the quality of the vanilla.
Vanilla planifolia pods, which are left on the vine for too long, tend to mold, which drastically reduces their economic value. Vanilla tahitensis (Tahitian vanilla), on the other hand, can remain on the vanilla plant until it turns completely brown.
Vanilla beans must be dried to develop the aroma and flavor of vanilla. The curing of vanilla beans remains somewhat of an art, with many variations used in different parts of the world.
In general, the process involves a few major steps: scalding, steaming, drying, refining, grading and packaging.
The first green vanilla harvests
The 2020 vanilla bean harvest was highly anticipated on the world markets. The price of vanilla per kilo is around 350€.
In general, the first harvests of green vanilla begin during the month of May but can go until October.
The best months to eat vanilla are July, August and September!
The best vanilla beans
Bourbon vanilla (of the vanilla planifolia variety) is considered one of the best vanillas in the world. Indeed, Madagascar vanilla is the best vanilla, embalming all dishes with its fragrant power and its intoxicating flavors. Madagascar is the largest producer of vanilla, meeting the global demand, producing nearly 80% of the world’s vanilla production.
Discover very soon the 2021 harvest, quality beans and an exceptional vanilla that will only sublimate your dishes.