Amazing Uses of Vanilla Beans

Vanila Bean Pods

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

History of Vanilla Bean

The secret of Vanilla beans (which is also called the fruit of the orchid) goes back some centuries to the ancient Totonaco Indians of Mexico, who were defeated by the Aztecs, then they were defeated by the Spaniard, Hernando Cortez and he returned to Spain with the precious vanilla beans. In Spain for 80 years they made a special drink using these beans combined with cacao which only nobility enjoyed. In 1602, the apothecary to Queen Elizabeth I suggested vanilla could be used as a flavoring by itself, so the versatility of the bean was finally unveiled.

Vanilla Orchid

Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia

Where Beans are Grown and How

Today’s vanilla is grown in four main areas of the world with each area having unique characteristics and attributes. It grows in the form of a bean pod. There are over 110 varieties. The largest producer is Madagascar, the island of the west coast of Africa, and is known as Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla, the Bourbon refers to close by islands, not the alcoholic beverage. This vanilla is considered to be the highest quality pure vanilla available, and it is said to have a creamy, sweet, smooth, mellow flavor. Indonesia is the second largest producer and the vanilla is woody, astringent flavor. These two countries grow 90% of the world’s vanilla. Mexico, where the vanilla orchid originated, grows vanilla with a creamy, sweet, smooth and spicy taste. Tahiti’s vanilla is grown from a different genus of vanilla orchid, is flowery and fruity, anisic (like anise oil) and smooth.

In order to produce the fruit the orchid flowers are laboriously hand-pollinated at a specific time of day when the flowers are open during a one month flowering period. The fruit is not permitted to fully ripen as this will cause the beans to split. Hand harvesting occurs 4-6 months after the fruit first appears. At that point the beans go through a 6 month treatment process. I guess now the rather high price of pure vanilla is understandable. Vanilla beans are expensive in retail shops at $2-$3 apiece. The pure extract is high as well. Pure vanilla has no added sugar and lasts forever, aging like fine liquor. Imitation vanilla is made from artificial flavorings most of which come from wood byproducts and other chemicals.

Choosing the Best Quality

Vanilla Pods on Plant -not ripe

source flickr
source flickr

Shopping for Vanilla Beans

When choosing vanilla beans for purchase should have a full rich aroma, be oily to the touch and sleek in appearance. Avoid beans that do not have these characteristics. You can purchase vanilla in whole pods, in the liquid extract form and in powder, which is ground pods, kept pure or blended with sugar, starch or other ingredients

Making Your Own Extract

You can make your own vanilla extract by chopping 3 or 4 vanilla beans into small pieces, carefully retaining all the seeds and crystals. Place them into a clean jar and add about ½ cup of brandy liquor. Let steep for 1 to 6 months. Strain and use with or without the pieces depending on what your recipe requires. The mixture keeps indefinitely. If you find the brandy flavor too strong and have more time use one split bean steeped in ¾ cup of vodka for 6 months.


Demonstration of Beans in Your Kitchen

Bourbon Vanilla Soap

Photo Courtesy of
Photo Courtesy of

Uses of the Vanilla Bean

Since vanilla has such a wide range of flavors it can be used in a vast array of products. It is one of the most widely used flavors in the world, particularly in vanilla ice cream. It is obviously used in many baked goods such as cakes, muffins, cookies, custards, frosting, and so forth. It is also used in coffee and caramel. In Mexico they use vanilla in many sauces; and the cosmetic industry uses it in perfume from Paris. We see specialty soaps and candles with vanilla aroma and it is an essential oil used in aromatherapy.

There are also medicinal uses. In old medicinal literature it states vanilla can be used as an aphrodisiac and a remedy for fevers, but these purported uses have not been proven. Since vanilla does have an increased level of catecholamine (including adrenalin) it can be mildly addictive.


In summary, the history of the vanilla orchid and beans is fascinating. The tedious process of harvesting the vanilla beans along with the curing process is also very interesting. There are hundreds of uses for vanilla beans and there are many products you can make in your own kitchen. I hope you enjoyed this hub and maybe will try to be a little creative in your own kitchen.

Vanilla Overview

Did you learn something new about vanilla and will you try to work with some pods?

See results without voting

The copyright to this article is owned by Pamela Oglesby. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

More by this Author

Comments 33 comments

partisan patriot 6 years ago


Just as I suspected; you are a racists. The fact you chose to extol the virtues of the Vanilla Bean instead of the Chocolate Bean in and of itself proves my point. Look for a visit from the Justice Brothers; the reverends Jesse and Al, in the near future and and organized boycott of your hub let by Calypso Louie Farrakhan.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Patriot, Thanks for the warning but maybe they like vanilla ice cream?

Springboard profile image

Springboard 6 years ago from Wisconsin

Very interesting hub Pamela. Hmmm. Now you've got me wondering about Mexican sauces with vanilla...never heard of using it in sauces so being one who loves to try interesting and different flavor combinations, I may have to do a little searching.

Great stuff.

Partisan, lol. :)

Darlene Sabella profile image

Darlene Sabella 6 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

Awesome hub, I enjoyed reading about where this comes from and how each location offers a special favor. Is that above person serious? Anyway, fantastic hub, love the learn the history of these everyday uses....thumbs up

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Springboard, I learned many new things also and didn't know about using vanilla in a sauce but I may check some recipes. I like to try new things also. Thanks for your comments.

Darlene, I am glad you enjoyed the hub and thank you for your comments. If you are referring to Patriot, he is just teasing and seems to take great pleasure in doing so.

tantrum profile image

tantrum 6 years ago from Tropic of Capricorn

I loved this hub! Interesting info about vanilla that I didn't know. And then I had to laugh at the comment of Partisan patriot, whoever that is ! LOL :)

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Tantrum, I'm glad you enjoyed the hub and thanks for your comments.

Research Analyst profile image

Research Analyst 6 years ago

vanilla bean has so many uses, its great to use as flavoring as well as an essential oil.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Research Analyst, Thank you for your comments.

drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

So vanilla can be addictive? Maybe that is why more vanilla ice cream is sold throughout the world than any other flavor. And that includes chocolate.

Thanks for the interesting facts, Pamela.

prettydarkhorse profile image

prettydarkhorse 6 years ago from US

the aroma is good and I never tried this one, It is aromatic I am sure, thanks Pam, Maita

Hello, hello, profile image

Hello, hello, 6 years ago from London, UK

I never knew anything about this product. Thank you for sharing.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

drbj, I don't think its a strong addiction but the addiction to ice cream is pretty strong in my case and many flavors are great. Thank you for your comment.

Miata, It is aromatic. Thanks for your comment.

Hello, I am glad you learned something new today. Thank you for your comment.

barryrutherford profile image

barryrutherford 6 years ago from Queensland Australia

Well done great use of images and content !

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Barry, Thank you so much for your comment.

eovery profile image

eovery 6 years ago from MIddle of the Boondocks of Iowa

HI Pamela. Have a great day.

Keep on hubbing

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Thanks for stopping by Eovery.

Tom Whitworth profile image

Tom Whitworth 6 years ago from Moundsville, WV


You taught me something that I never knew. I never knew vanilla was from orchids. Good Hub!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Tom, Thanks for your comments.

Roberta99 profile image

Roberta99 6 years ago

I really enjoyed reading this hub. Vanilla is my favorite flavoring. Besides using it in recipes, I buy soap and candles with vanilla scent. Great work.

prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

Actually I never know about this plant before. You give us something useful. Good to know about this. Absolutely fantastic. Another knowledge from you. Good work, as usual I rate this Up.


Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Roberta, Thank you so much for your comments. it seems that vanilla is more popular than ever today.

Paraetio, Thank you for your comments and I am glad you learned something new. You may be able to purchase Vanilla at a better price in Indonesia since they grow it there.

K9keystrokes profile image

K9keystrokes 6 years ago from Northern, California

Love the hub! Vanilla is a yummy and versitile thing. I agree that vanilla icecream is more popular than chocolate... the fact that far less work is envolved when enjoying the vanilla bean compared to the cocoa bean may play a roll in this. A simple zip and the vanilla bean offerings are exposed and ready to assist you at that very moment. It takes much handeling and preperation to even get close to the goodness the cocoa bean offers.

Off to ColdStone for a refreshing old fashiond cone! I believe my icecream addiction has been triggered!

Thanks again Pamela99, I will continue to follow.

habee profile image

habee 6 years ago from Georgia

Wonderful tips and ideas!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Krystrokes, Thank your for the interesting comments. I must say I know a lot less about the cocoa bean but thanks for sharing the information.

Habee, Thank you very much for your comment.

Lamme profile image

Lamme 6 years ago

ummm, I love the smell of vanilla! I like to tuck a vanilla bean inside a container of sugar. I use this sugar for icing, macerating fruit, anyplace a hint of vanilla would be welcome. Vanilla is a wonderful thing. Thanks for the great hub!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Lamme, Tucking the vanilla bean into the container of sugar wounds like a wonderful idea. I love vanilla also. Thanks for your comments.

Support Med. profile image

Support Med. 6 years ago from Michigan

Yes Pamela99, it is understandble why vanilla is expensive, I did not know the amount of time/process it involved. Although I don't mind buying pure vanilla extract from the grocers, I would love to buy the bean (and voted so), however, I seem to not be able to find it anywhere). What I found amazing is that it contains 'adrenalin'. Now that is something to do a little research on! Voted-up/rated!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Support Med, Thanks for your comments. I thought maybe Whole Foods might have the vanilla but don't know for sure.

nancy_30 profile image

nancy_30 6 years ago from Georgia

This was a very interesting hub on vanilla beans. I use vanilla a lot when I bake. I learned a lot of things I didn't know before about it.

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Nancy, Thank you so much for your comment.

creativelycc profile image

creativelycc 6 years ago from Maine

Hi Pamela99

Excellent info, I love baking with vanilla but have never made my own extract or used a vanilla pod. I will definitely start using them and making my own extract! So excited about it!!!

Pamela99 profile image

Pamela99 6 years ago from United States Author

Creativelycc, I am glad you enjoyed the hub and will try something new. Thanks for your comments.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article