vanilla bean bunch

The Magic of an Orchid

Shrouded in mystique, vanilla, the “queen of spices” has a long history of intrigue, adventure and magic. Legend has it that the Aztec emperor Montezuma welcomed the conquistador Hernan Cortez with xocolātl, a vanilla flavored chocolate beverage, served in golden goblets. The symbol of an entire aromatic tradition, its tale begins in the era of the Mayas and Aztecs, after which it found its way to Europe, to Bourbon Island (now Reunion), before finally being introduced to Madagascar where it has flourished for over 180 years.

An attractive climbing creeper belonging to the orchid family, Vanilla Planifolia is the only orchid whose fruit is edible. It requires a support plant to create shade and grows in the damp undergrowth of tropical rain forests. Its fruits, referred to as beans, resemble large green haricot beans. They grow in bunches on the creeper and are harvested when ripe, before undergoing a long curing process, to become a highly prized spice.

The beans are left to dry for several months during which time countless flavour molecules are released during the enzymatic fermentation, generating the distinctive vanilla fragrance; six kilos of green beans are needed to produce one kilo of black beans ready for use.

PROVA sources its finest vanilla beans from protected plantations in Madagascar and Tahiti, which provide outstanding flavourings.

Vanilla, the Focus of Much Attention

The cultivation of natural vanilla, the queen of spices, has been carefully established, developed and perfected and like all rare spices, has its own particular rituals and techniques which require meticulous care. In addition to dexterity, flexibility and speed, the preparation process also necessitates a knowledge of good practice, derived from the ancestral know-how of Malagasy farmers. To ensure that the green beans ripen into glossy black strips, a series of steps are needed and delicate and patient work must be done in order to tame this capricious flower.

Read more about the steps of the Vanilla Curing process

 

  • Vanilla beans should be stored in a closed, but not air-tight, container in a dry, cool and somewhat dark place. The cold isn't the vanilla best friend so do not store your beans in the refrigerator or freezer as they will either dry out or become moldy!
  • Experts recommend letting your beans breathe by exposing them to air every few weeks for a few minutes.

  • It takes 4 g of vanilla beans to flavor 1 liter of milk or hot stock.
  • The Aztecs called vanilla tlilxóchitl which means black flower.
  • Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world next to saffron.