Vanilla Plant

Vanilla Plant: The Vanilla Bean Plant

To get the vanilla, the pods are caught when they are still green and left to ferment by baking them, then exposed to the sun for 2 days and then stored in wooden trunks for 7 months, in a well-ventilated place, taking them regularly in the sun. they sweat and get old by putting them back to the trunk at night. So for 7 months until you get that flavor, aroma and brown color. Hence its very high price. The longer the more prestigious pods they have.

Contrary to what we might think, the green pod and the flower hardly smell, and the aroma is very different from that of the cured pod.

vanilla plant


Due to the high price, substitutes, aromas, etc. are more common. than the vanilla itself. The most common are vanilla sugar (sweet white powder) or vanillin (or synthetic vanilla), an artificial methyl compound (the main aromatic compound, created in a laboratory.


 Vanilla itself is a culinary experience, and even though it is one of the most used ingredients when it comes to cooking, its fascinating and mysterious history is little known.

Vanilla is a plant belonging to the Orchidaceae family and is the only orchid that produces an edible fruit. Inside the vanilla sticks that grow in this orchid are the seeds with which all the natural vanilla products we know are produced.

 This plant belongs to the family of the Orchids, a tribe of the orrideas, whose species live in tropical regions of America and Asia. It can be described briefly as follows: Climbing herbaceous plant, cylindrical stem little branched, long, flexible, succulent, green; It produces opposite leaves subsessile, oblong-elliptical lanceolate, acute apex acuminate, 10 to 20 cm. Of length, 4 to 8cm. of width and 1 to 2 mm. Thick, fleshy consistency and lustrous cutinized surface, mainly in the beam. At the knots, on the opposite side of the leaf, develops roots pairs aerial warnings with which it adheres to trees or other supports. The inflorescences are produced in axillary clusters of ten to twenty flowers placed in a spiral. The flower is composed of three sepals, three petals of yellow color to pale green and a central column formed by the welded stamen and pistil, wrapped by a modified and elongated petal which is given the name of “labellum”. There is also a floral piece called “rostelo” that stands between the pollen sacks and the stigma limiting pollination. The ovary is tricarpelar. The fruit is a fleshy, dehiscent capsule or pod with a slightly triangular cross section of fifteen cm. in length, with seeds by very small thousands, of dark color almost black, globose with the solid head. The roots develop without deepening the soil extending superficially several meters away. wrapped by a modified and elongated petal that is given the name of “labellum”. There is also a floral piece called “rostelo” that stands between the pollen sacks and the stigma limiting pollination. The ovary is tricarpelar. The fruit is a fleshy, dehiscent capsule or pod with a slightly triangular cross section of fifteen cm. in length, with seeds by very small thousands, of dark color almost black, globose with the solid head. The roots develop without deepening the soil extending superficially several meters away. wrapped by a modified and elongated petal that is given the name of “labellum”. There is also a floral piece called “rostelo” that stands between the pollen sacks and the stigma limiting pollination. The ovary is tricarpelar. The fruit is a fleshy, dehiscent capsule or pod with a slightly triangular cross section of fifteen cm. in length, with seeds by very small thousands, of dark color almost black, globose with the solid head. The roots develop without deepening the soil extending superficially several meters away. of fifteen cm. in length, with seeds by very small thousands, of dark color almost black, globose with the solid head. The roots develop without deepening the soil extending superficially several meters away. of fifteen cm. in length, with seeds by very small thousands, of dark color almost black, globose with the solid head. The roots develop without deepening the soil extending superficially several meters away.

vanilla bean plant

La liana

Flexible and little branched, the vanilla liana develops from the growth of a bud , and forms long shoots that can reach from its base a height of more than ten meters. If the stem is broken, the pieces become new cuttings very easily, which allows the multiplication of the plant.


The leaves are arranged alternately on each side of the stem . They are short, flat, oblong, dark green and leathery even fleshy in some species, with the end slightly tipped. They are also filled with a transparent and irritating juice that causes persistent burns and itching on the skin . Regarding the size, they are three times longer than wide and can measure approximately 15 cm. However, there is a significant number of species whose leaves have been reduced to scales or are almost totally or completely devoid of them.
They have long and strong aerial roots that are born from each nodule and that allow the vanilla to cling to its support or, in the case of cutting, to take root.

  • Species: According to the morphological criterion is the set of individuals that by all their characters, considered essential, agree with each other and with their descendants.

According to the physiological criterion it is formed by individuals able to cross each other and originate fertile descendants to which they transmit their characters.

  • Embryophyte siphonophy : Embriofita because the zygote or egg, before giving rise to a new plant, forms a small embryo slightly differentiated, and siphonophama because its fertilization is effected by means of a tube or siphon. The pollen grain forms by germinating, a pollen tube where the gametes that fertilize the ovule go.

The intensive labor that is needed for the cultivation and curing of this product means that its cost is surpassed only by saffron. In addition, its molecular complexity makes it a unique product in irreplaceable; Products that try to replace the pod, such as vanilla extract, are synthetic; thus, this beautiful flower, unique in its kind, was the privilege of noble and military palates of high rank.

The curing process consists of four phases: killing the pods, that is to say they are cut and subjected to extreme temperatures, which cuts the metabolic process of the same; then they sweat, they are exposed to the sun and then they are wrapped so that they sweat until they wrinkle; the drying is done in two phases, in the sun and under roof and finally the best ones are selected and they rest in metal or wood boxes. The curing process takes 5 to 8 months of hard work.

If the process of cultivation and curing of the vanilla sounds laborious, the difficulty is doubled when making accounts, since for each acre of vines only 60 kilos of pods ready to be commercialized are obtained, hence the average price of a vanilla pod. (less than 1 g of edible product) is $ 50.00 Mexican pesos or approximately $ 4.00 dollars.

Distribution of areas where vanilla is grown

The members of this genus live in the low zones of the rainforests . They were already reproduced by cuttings before the arrival of the Spanish conquerors in Mexico and Guatemala . In addition, almost all the totality of the roots, even those that are born wild, are given in freedom, they are clones of others that come from present exploitations or of abandoned cultures.

The natural area from which it originates is poorly known. It would extend over a broad region that would include parts of southern Mexico , Guatemala , Belize and Honduras ; but it would have become very difficult to find in a really wild state. Therefore, only about thirty roots, also very scattered, are currently identified as such.


The demands of the vanilla impose, for the production of good quality, the selection of the region and lands in which it is to be cultivated, taking into account the climate according to the altitude and latitude. For example, a determining factor for an adequate maturity, despite being an eminently tropical plant, are the northern winds that lower the temperature in late autumn and early winter, which favors the transformation of aromatics and saporifics, a quality that characterizes the “hard” vanilla well arrived at maturity. It follows that the area of ​​Papantla and surrounding places, whose hot and humid summer promotes the development of the fruit and whose cold “nortes” of late autumn help a desirable maturity,

The nature of the soil is not of prime importance, as long as the soil is permeable and not very compact. Soils that are too clayey that break up in dry periods are defective, just as too sandy soils are unable to retain moisture. Preferably volcanic terrains should be chosen, although the geological origin is not very important. Yes it is important that the soil is rich in organic matter, in “humus”. For this reason, forests in general provide adequate places, making the best use of them if they do not burn.

Planting tutors.

To sustain the vanilla is necessary the use of tutors, essential for their status as a climbing plant while useful for, in the case of living tutors, provide the required shade, or part of it, as well as organic matter.

There is a belief that vanilla takes nutrients from the guardian, but in fact it provides only mechanical support, having seen that in dead guardians the vanilla can also thrive. In any case it is preferable to use live tutors for the benefit of shade and organic matter, in addition to the fact that in the tropics, materials such as posts and wire decay and oxidize rapidly deteriorating, and more durable materials would be very expensive. The seeds of the vanilla are fertile, but the propagation by means of seed is very slow and laborious. You can also graft vanilla like fruit trees, taking several months to graft to start growing. This can not yet be determined if it is practical or not, as it has not been properly studied. What is proven as a practical measure,

Likewise, the use of shade trees is needed.

It is important that within the vanilla plantation there is a suitable number of shade trees. Its quantity must be adapted to the climate and soil conditions. In places where the sky is cloudy most of the time and the earth is humid, there must be few trees, being unnecessary in some places. In most cases the shadow they must provide must be thirty to fifty percent. When there is excess shade, more diseases are observed. The high shadow like that provided by the palm tree is the most convenient.

Then we proceed to the mooring, pruning and reproduction of guides In normal conditions, the vanilla vine begins to take root at two weeks, and from thirty to forty days begins to sprout. Plants that do not develop properly should not be left, should be placed so that the plantation is uniform, since the plants that are initially delayed will continue to be retarded and will never be vigorous. Many vines do not develop because the foot has dried, being better to replace them than to wait for them to develop new roots.

The growth of the vanilla is very fast and it is necessary to observe that they must be of 60 centimeters to little more than one meter per month. In very favorable periods when the plant is vigorous the vanilla grows 10 to 15 centimeters in one day.

  • In the lower area of ​​the forest, using the trunks of the trees as support.
  • In intercropping, for example with  sugar cane .
  • In greenhouses .

The  farmers  say the  cuttings (esquejes) , control or help hang the good ground  and ensure in particular the fold of the  liana  so that future  pods  can be found at the height of a man.


Fertilization must be carried out even today, flower to flower. The procedure used is still the same as that discovered by  Edmon Albius . It is done early in the morning (because the flowers have a short life of just a few hours from the beginning of the day) and in the dry season (because the rain harms the formation of the fruit).

The flower is held carefully with one hand, using a finger as a point of support under the  ginostema  or column (the central part of the flower). With a sharp but non-cutting instrument, a thorn for example, the cap that protects the male sexual organs is torn. With the same instrument, the tongue (the rostellum ), which separates the female organs from the male part , is then straightened  and the stamen  that the pollen possesses towards the  stigma is approached with the fingers, exerting a small pressure to ensure good contact .


The transformation of the  fruits  (which are practically odorless) into a   soft and pleasantly perfumed spice needs a meticulous and thorough preparation. The principles of this were developed in  Mexico  a long time ago. The simplest method, or what is also called “direct preparation”, consists in allowing the pod to mature by alternating sun and shade exposures, although the results are mediocre. It is preferred, therefore, the “indirect preparation” that begins with a brutal shock that “kills” the pod, followed by a series of transformation, drying and sorting operations that last about ten months before getting the final product known as the vanilla stick that is usually sold.

To “kill” the pod, you can go through the furnace, cold,  infrared ,  ethanol , etc. But the means that is used today in a more generalized way is to give the pod a bath in hot water. This is how the procedure developed in  1851  by  Ernest Loupy , a native of  La Réunion , began, based on the Mexican knowledge that had been widely disseminated by  David de Floris . The stages are the following:

  • Scalding : some wicker baskets   filled with green pods of  Vanilla  (up to 30 kg per basket) are submerged for three minutes in water, which is at a temperature of 63 ° C.
  • Dehydration : pods are quickly placed between  blankets  of  wool  in large boxes for a period of twelve to fourteen hours; thus kept in heat, they lose water, develop  enzymatically  and acquire their black chocolate color.


  • Drying : for a period of two to six weeks, depending on the potential quality level, the  vanilla  is dried for a few hours a day, first in an oven (65 ° C) on racks, then in the sun, and finally in the shade, to get a better quality.
  • Placement in logs :  refining  is carried out for eight months on wooden logs covered with  parchment paper ; It is during this period when the  aroma  develops … The logs are regularly checked to remove possible moldy pods   that would contaminate the others.
  • Calibrated : the pods are classified according to their  length , the longest are the most prestigious.
  • Packing : traditionally, pods of the same length are packaged in  packages , and if not, they are packed in  sacks .


Although the problems due to the attack of plagues and diseases in vanilla are not severe in our environment, it is necessary to take them into account to avoid the losses that they cause when they occur. The main ones are the following:

  • “Colorado Vanilla Louse”. Order: Hemiptera. Sub-order: Gymnocerata. Scientific name: Euricipitis vestitus, Champ. We refer to a bug that reaches approximately 8 mm. in length, easily recognizable by its reddish color. It is usually located on the underside of the leaves and sometimes in the vine. Its biology is unknown, being necessary the study of it according to the ecological conditions of the region. Their presence is not of great economic importance, since their appearance is not permanent; nevertheless, the injuries that it causes lead to the development of fungal diseases.
  • Control.- In the case of a sucking insect, sprays with Nicotine Sulphate and soap are recommended. The minimum proportion of the insecticide is one part in 400 of water and 4 parts of soap. The applications are more effective when the insect is in the nymph state.
  • Root rot.

This disease is caused by fungi of the genus Fusarium and Phytophtora, occurring mainly in the first years of life of the plant. They appear in the young roots in the form of small spots of dark brown color that are gradually darkened as the disease progresses. Finally the tissues of the affected roots are dried and they end up detaching from the rest of the plant.

  • Anthracnose of vanilla.

Produced by the fungus “Colletotrichum vanillae”, it is characterized by circular spots on the leaf, dark in color, which come to fuse forming larger spots. The spots as the disease develops dry up, appearing on the surface small black spots that correspond to the fruiting of the fungus. It also appears in the vines with similar characteristics.

Control: Timely treatments with copper-based fungicides.

  • Vanilla pox.

This disease is caused by the fungus “Nectria vanillicola”. It appears in the form of small irregular spots, depressed and placed indistinctly on either side of the leaves, have a dark brown color and reach a size of up to 5 mm

  • Control: Copper-based compounds are recommended before flowering.
  • Vanilla rust.

Produced by the fungus “Puccinia sinamonea”, it appears forming small spots or spots of dark yellow color on the underside of the leaves, from which the fructifications of the fungus depart. For its easy identification, microscopic observation is required. The spots tend to fuse forming wider areas of circular or irregular shape, which darken as the disease progresses with a yellowish color in its contours.

Control: Applications of Calcium Polysulfides, or Sulfur, being also the Bordelés Broth. Applications should be made when the first symptoms of the disease are noticed.

  • Other pests

Occasionally the attack of the so-called “dog worm” (Papilio polyxenes), as well as the “woolly louse” (Eriosoma sp.) And the “oyster scale” (Lepidisaphes gloverii), easily controllable with contact insecticides or Stomach effect Malathion is recommended.

Occasionally, in conditions of excessive humidity, there are infestations of “snails” and “slugs” for which combat specific caracolicidas or poisoned baits are recommended, such as bran or sawdust with metaldehyde and fermented beer as attractant. The applications are more effective at dusk.


The climate and the land where these plants grow give quality to the vanilla stick, their quality, fragrance, flavor and texture being very different, depending on their characteristics of the region they come from and therefore their price.

The drink with vanilla and cocoa became a success in the circles of the European aristocracy. In 1602 the alchemist of Queen Elizabeth I suggested that it be used to enhance the flavors of other drinks and dishes.

Nowadays vanilla appears not only almost daily in our kitchen, but also in our perfumes and in many other products that require a mild and pleasant aroma or flavor.

Vanilla for its consumption currently comes in different forms, rods, pasta, powder, extract and essences.

It is always recommended that they are natural, actually made with natural vanilla. It is better to experiment with the sticks, it gives them the flavor and aroma of purer vanilla that exists, being the origin of all other vanilla products.

Its use is not only for the professional chef, its use is simple and the rods can last for years. Just insert the stick into your next dessert, if this is a custard, rice pudding, mousses, puddings or drinks during cooking or preparation, take it out after a while, wash it under cold water, and let it dry well in the sun before storing room temperature. In case of cookies and cakes, cut a small piece of the stick, cut this piece horizontally and carefully scrape the seeds it contains, adding them directly to the other ingredients of the dessert.

The vanilla is complicated to obtain, something that raises its economic cost, is an ally that will sweeten all kinds of desserts, creams, ice cream, custard, tarts, as long as it is obtained naturally, because in it is the key to its authentic good taste. With vanilla you can make the simplest and tasty desserts.

The demand for vanilla is very diversified and includes everything from  chocolate  or  Coca-Cola  to  perfumes  like  Jean-Paul Gaultier’s


Flavoring and food preparations 

As a  flavoring , vanilla is an essence elaborated using the pods of  vanilla orchid seeds  . The species mainly harvested is Vanilla planifolia, although others are also used, such as Vanilla pompona and Vanilla tahitiensis). The agri-food industry represents between 80% and 85% of the world’s demand. Includes the   industrial chocolate factory, the industrial ice cream parlor such as Nestlé or  Unilever , and the soda manufacturers . In this way, the simple decision of Coca-Cola to propose its soft drink flavored with vanilla was an increase of 10% of global demand. However, the original recipe already used natural vanilla. Since then, the company has been the world’s largest consumer. The vanilla is also used in  creams , ice creams,  cakes  and other homemade culinary preparations, adding a little essence or cooking the pods in the broth of the preparation. A  stronger aroma can be obtained by  cutting the pods in half; in this case, the small black beans that are inside release their aroma.

Don Burke

I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide.  I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.

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