Pure vanilla is made from the cured bean pod of the Vanilla Planifolia orchid. This is the only orchid in the world that vines and the only one that produces edible fruit.
Vanilla Orchids are grown in tropical climates like Mexico, Florida, Tahiti, the Bahamas, Madagascar, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Most of the world's vanilla is grown in Madagascar.
Vanilla is used in many food and drink recipes, and especially in the dairy industry for ice creams and other dairy products. There are many different flavors of ice cream, but vanilla is still the best selling.
Vanilla is also used in perfumes, room fresheners and candles, and to cover up strong industrial smells like paint and cleaning products.
Photo of Flat-leaved Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) from Wikipedia
I'm not a botanist, but I believe pollen stays within a flower as long as it's in bloom. A vanilla orchid bloom opens in the morning and closes up the same day. So vanilla plantation workers must go out every day to find newly opened blooms so they can self pollinate them before they close.
Does the pollen last, or must new pollen be obtained daily for hand pollination?
So, that is where vanilla comes from. I never gave it a thought before now.
This is a really interesting article - especially the part about having to manually pollinate the flowers. I appreciated the tip about how to refresh a partially used bottle of vanilla extract, too. Very handy!
sandyspider - it would be fun to try, but unfortunately vanilla takes several years to produce beans. You can buy vanilla beans online or in larger or specialty grocery stores and make your own extract (see module "You Can Make Your Own Vanilla Extract").
I wonder how well it would grow where I live. The extract is expensive in the stores.
Vanilla is so delicious. I like the idea of being able to make your own extract.
I'm a big fan of vanilla and found that really interesting, thank you.
CorreenK - thanks for the review of the Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Paste; I have't tried the paste yet.
This was so interesting, it made my day. You write amazing articles! Thank you so much for sharing all this info with us. I watched the videos as well. Thank you!