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Vanilla, Vanilla Beans, Vanilla Orchids, Vanilla Extract!

Updated on August 20, 2016
Austinstar profile image

L. Cargill, B.A., Sam Houston University, Huntsville, TX., has been writing cool and interesting articles for the internet world since 1995.

The only edible orchid - Vanilla!

The Vanilla orchid, one of the most beautiful plants in the world.
The Vanilla orchid, one of the most beautiful plants in the world.

Vanilla is the flavor of the gods!

The Aztecs of Mesoamerica prized the vanilla for its flavoring qualities. The vanilla orchid is not only beautiful, but the goddess, Xanat, created it specifically with her blood to prove her love for her mortal husband.She was forbidden to marry a human and ran off with him into the lush tropical jungle. When the pair was eventually caught and killed, her blood seeping into the earth created the first vanilla vine.

During the Aztec reign of Mexico, vanilla was used only by the kings and high officials of the empire. When the Spanish conquerors came, they sent the vanilla and cacao beans back to the king of Spain to be used by the nobles and elite of that country and the delicious chocolate drink we know as cocoa was born.

The fruit of the vanilla orchid is called a bean, even though it is not truly a bean. It is an elongated pod with a heavenly aroma that is filled with many seeds. The flowering vanilla orchid opens once in its lifetime at dawn to be pollinated by one specific species of bee. This bee is only found in Mexico. Even though the flowers are visited by moths, butterflies and hummingbirds, only the bee is a pollinator. Without the bee, all other plants must be pollinated by hand. After only a day or less, the flower closes forever and ripens into the fruit we all know and love.

Vanilla is not your ordinary extract. It is also used in many perfumes, medicines and scented products. To fall in love with the vanilla orchid is total serene bliss. A vanilla plantation is a sight to behold. Full of trees to support the climbing vine orchid, it is lush and green and found in tropical areas of the world.

Today, vanilla beans are grown in five main areas of the world. Each region produces vanilla beans with distinctive characteristics and attributes.

Madagascar, an island off the coast of Africa, is the largest producer of vanilla beans in the world and the ensuing vanilla is known as Madagascar Bourbon vanilla. The term Bourbon applies to beans grown on the Bourbon Islands - Madagascar, Comoro, Seychelle and Reunion. Madagascar Bourbon vanilla beans are considered to be the highest quality pure vanilla available, described as having a creamy, sweet, smooth, mellow flavor.

Indonesia is the second largest producer of vanilla beans, with a vanilla that is woody and astringent. Madagascar and Indonesia produce 90 percent of the world's vanilla bean crop.

Mexico, where the vanilla orchid originated, now produces only a small percentage of the harvest. Mexican vanilla beans are described as creamy, sweet, smooth and spicy.

Tahitian vanilla beans, grown from a mutation of the original vanilla orchid, is flowery, fruity and smooth.

In recent years India has significantly expanded its vanilla cultivation. Vanilla is cultivated in the southern states of India. Indian vanilla is quickly becoming the largest source of natural vanilla.

Natural vanilla is labor intensive and must be pollinated by hand. It takes three years to produce a flowering plant. The pods must remain on the vine for nine months to fully mature. The curing and drying process takes many days. After this process, the beans are graded and sorted, then sold for further processing. Actually, today 97% of the vanilla used to flavor ice cream and other products is synthetically produced even though over two tons of natural vanilla are produced annually. Everyone loves that distinctive vanilla flavor!

The Four Types of Vanilla Extract

Mexican Vanilla

My personal favorite and still the best extract in my opinion. I use mexican vanilla in all my recipes and it produces the best and richest flavor in baked goods.

Bourbon Vanilla

From the "bourbon" islands. This vanilla is the most popular and plentiful of the natural vanillas. About 75% of all natural vanilla beans come from this area of the world.

Tahitian Vanilla

Fruitier and smoother than most vanilla, this orchid is a mutation from the original mexican orchid. The aroma is more floral than the other type of vanilla and is therefore best for perfumes.

French Vanilla

French vanilla is not a true type of the orchid, but rather a unique formulation that is stronger than most vanilla extracts. It has a heavy concentration of the tiny seeds inside of a vanilla pod. French vanilla is best for flavoring ice cream and dairy products.

Once you discover your favorite type of vanilla, you will probably use it exclusively. Each type is distinctive and one is sure to please the most picky cook. Only by experimenting can you develop a personal preference!

Ghiradeli Hot Chocolate

Hot Chocolate!
Hot Chocolate!

The word's BEST hot chocolate! Ever! The Drink of the Aztec Gods and Nobles!

"Grown Up" Hot Chocolate

Yield: 4 servings

  • 4 ounce(s) 60% Ghiradelli's Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips
  • 1 cup(s) half-and-half (or fat free half and half)
  • 1 tablespoon(s) amaretto (almond liqueur) or 1 tablespoon hazelnut, coffee or orange liqueur or peppermint schnapps, or 1/2 teaspoon almond or peppermint extract
  • 1 teaspoon(s) pure vanilla extract or 1/2 ground up gourmet vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup(s) whipped cream (or fat free whipped cream)


In a saucepan over low heat, bring chocolate and half-and-half to a simmer, whisking constantly. Simmer 1 minute or until mixture thickens slightly. Remove from heat; whisk in liqueur and vanilla.

Pour into four 1/2-cup demitasse or coffee cups. Top each serving with 2 tablespoons whipped cream; dust with Ghirardelli Unsweetened Cocoa (if desired). Serve immediately.

Makes the best dessert for a dinner party, or Christmas celebration. The vanilla is what makes hot chocolate so unbearably delicious.

Vanilla delivered to your door by Amazon

McCormick All Natural Pure Vanilla Extract, Gluten-Free Vanilla, 16 fl oz
McCormick All Natural Pure Vanilla Extract, Gluten-Free Vanilla, 16 fl oz

Made with the highest quality ingredients, McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract is a staple for every kitchen. Created from premium vanilla beans, our pure extract delivers a perfectly balanced rich, caramelized, bourbon-rummy flavor that enhances everything from chocolate chip cookies to an ambitious apple tart. Not just for baked goods, Vanilla Extract can also add a hint of sweetness to savory side dishes. No matter your craving, our extract can boost the flavor of your favorite meal or treat.


© 2010 Lela

Comments - There are 3 kinds of people in the world - Chocolate lovers, Vanilla lovers, and those that love both!

Submit a Comment

  • vespawoolf profile image


    6 years ago from Peru, South America

    I can't wait to try the hot chocolate!

  • James A Watkins profile image

    James A Watkins 

    8 years ago from Chicago

    I love learning and I love vanilla. You have provided both in one Hub! Thank you very much for the informative pleasure. It is very good.

  • profile image


    8 years ago

    I too made homemade Kaluha way back when for a New Years Eve bash. I was going to get a vnilla orchid until I realized I don't have a room 100' tall to grow it in. LOL I must try your recipe for my wife, thanks for sharing this. CC

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

    Well, the flower only lives for a day. The plant lives on. The flower pods (after pollination) hang on the vine for nine months before being harvested. This is the ripening process. It takes a long time to make a vanilla bean!

  • drbj profile image

    drbj and sherry 

    8 years ago from south Florida

    I can almost smell the lovely scent of vanilla emanating from this hub. Four different kinds of vanilla and the vanilla orchid plant lives for only one day? Who knew?

    Thanks for the vanilla education, Austinstar.

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

    homemade Kalua! I didn't even know you could do that. Whoa!

  • akirchner profile image

    Audrey Kirchner 

    8 years ago from Washington

    Super job and I love vanilla. Years ago we made kahlua I think from scratch to give to our friends - yeah right! It was so delicious with the whole vanilla bean - we enjoyed the gift to ourselves for many weeks!

  • Austinstar profile imageAUTHOR


    8 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

    Me too! I love both! But they are both Aztec related and I study the Aztecs, so ergo... cacao and vanilla!

  • Putz Ballard profile image

    Putz Ballard 

    8 years ago

    Great hub, I would be in that last category...both.


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