The Vanilla Beans Story - Infographic Vanilla Origins and Species

Have you ever wondered where those delicious fragrant Vanilla beans made into your favorite ice cream come from, and how they got there? 
The Vanilla bean story, their use and cultivation, goes back long before modern civilization--at least as far back as the Mayans and maybe before. These beans survived under different conquests and reigns, traveled around the globe finding homes in different landscapes, in different countries, mostly scattered across the tropics. 

Real Vanilla flavor only comes from the fruit of a particular orchid vine, bright bean pods that must be cured and dried. Only one species of insect, the Melipona bee, will normally pollinate the Vanilla flower and it was impossible to reliably cultivate and harvest until the 1840s, when hand pollination was developed in Bourbon, Madagascar.

Since then, Vanilla has become one of the most beloved flavor on earth and the second-most expensive spice after saffron because growing the Vanilla orchid is still labor-intensive. Vanilla has been become an essential part of many recipes, not only desserts, across many cuisines and is used in perfumes and even medicines that benefit from the uplifting fragrance of Vanilla. 

Infographic Vanilla Origins and Species

Infographic Vanilla Origins and Species

Not the real Vanilla. The vast majority of vanilla-flavored products out there on the market don’t actually contain any vanilla. In fact, less than one percent of the total global market in vanilla flavor is actually sourced from vanilla beans.

It may surprise you that Vanilin,  the most common imitation Vanilla flavoring, comes from eugenol, a chemical compound found in clove oil, and lignin, which is found in plants, wood pulp and even cow feces. It's probably best to always read your food label.

The Vanilla beans story, does not end with cultivation and imitation. There are many challenges in the process of getting real Vanilla beans to you. These challenges include thieves, plant diseases, natural disasters, and climate change, that will affect the crop growth and the farmers future.

Planting Vanilla irresponsibly can result in loss of soil nutrients, ecological disruption, and the loss of old-growth forests.  Many of these problems arise from farmers being under the pressure resulting from unfavorable and unfair trades practices. These pressures can affect the flavor of the Vanilla you buy. Farmers in need will often pick their Vanilla beans early, resulting in lower quality beans, because they have limited options for reaching out to buyers and negotiating their prices. 

Java Sisters Vanilla supports sustainable farming practices without disrupting old-grown rain-forests and helps farmers bring the highest quality of FairTrade Vanilla to markets around the world.

Bourbon Madagascar Vanilla Beans - Grade A -Java Sisters Vanilla
Bourbon Madagascar Vanilla Beans - Grade A -Java Sisters Vanilla

Bourbon Madagascar Vanilla Beans - Grade A


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  • AlannaAug 16, 2020

    Thank you for this post! I had no idea what ingredients could be lurking in some vanilla products! I will have to check the labels on the vanilla extract in my pantry!

  • Steph SimpsonAug 16, 2020

    Wow! Very informative! I read somewhere that a common chemical vanilla flavor compound is also taken from the tail glands of beavers. It makes me shiver to think about. I highly commend and support your mission for sustainability!

  • KristyAug 16, 2020

    Very insightful and beautiful infographic.

  • BetsyAug 13, 2020

    Thank you for your question, Maureen.
    Just like apples or wine, Vanilla beans have different flavor profiles depending on where they are grown. This is because of several factors like climate, soil, compost, curing method, and the particular variety of bean that is being grown. Bourbon-Madagascar and Tahitian beans are both varieties that were first cultivated on those islands, but they grow very well in many tropical locations, including Java.

  • MaureenAug 13, 2020

    Very interesting! How do the flavors of the vanilla beans differ depending on which country they are grown in?

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