Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) is a species of climbing plant in the Orchidaceae (sahlep family) family that is frequently grown in tropical countries. Its homeland is Mexico, Madagascar, Java and the Antilles. The leaves of the vanilla plant are sessile, flat and thick. Its fruits are 15-20 cm long. It is a glossy blackish-coloured capsule that is flat, tapered towards the two ends. Its smell is special, while its taste is bitter. Vanilla is essentially a vineyard plant. Vanilla is ecologically grown in northeastern South America on the side of Mexico, facing the Atlantic Ocean. Vanilla was previously used in temples to give off the scent or to keep evil spirits away. Afterwards, the Mexicans began to use vanilla to flavour their drinks.
In its natural environment, the vanilla plant has found a place from the Caribbeans to the Pacific coast of the Equator. Today, it can be grown in an area of about 20 degrees on both sides of the Equator. There are about 150 types of vanilla worldwide, but Bourbon, Tahitian and Indian Vanilla are grown commercially.
The introduction of vanilla to Europe began with the introduction of the cocoa plant by the Spanish in 1520 after the discovery of the American continent. But vanilla, despite all the efforts, could not be grown outside of Mexico for a very long time thereafter. In 1837, 4 years after it was understood that vanilla was pollinated by a genus of bee original to that region, a method of hand pollination was found by Edmond Albuis, who lived in the Bourbon Islands. After planting vanilla, it bears the first product approximately after 3 years.
It is a process that requires a lot of workmanship. While the stick is a green fruit, it waits for approximately 9 months to become flavoured. After the fruit is plucked, it is still green and has not yet fully become flavoured and developed its aroma. This flavour only develops after the drying process. After plucking the fruit, it is dried under the sun. However today, the fruits are soaked and waited in hot water and then dried under the sun in many countries. During this drying process, the fruit shrinks by about 20%. After processing, the products are sorted and left to rest for 1-2 months.
The vanilla is grown, pollinated (pollination process) and planted completely by hand, without using any machinery, chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Vanilla growers, which are usually women and children, can pollinate about 1000 to 2000 vanilla a day if they work fast enough. It is an agricultural product that requires the most workmanship. It is also the second most expensive spice in the world after Saffron.