Understand the production process and where the vanilla aroma comes from, which is one of the most common aromas in cooking and also in the perfume industry
There is no doubt that the aroma of vanilla is one of the most appreciated aromas worldwide, being very common in the gastronomy market and also in the perfume industry.
However, what the vast majority of people don't know is that the products that have "vanilla flavor" that we find on supermarket shelves do not have plants as ingredients. In fact, there are estimates that only 1% of these products have the true bean in their composition.
The production process of the real vanilla bean is very labor intensive, which ends up making the delicacy very expensive, with prices that can reach thousands of reais per kilo.
For this reason, the most affordable products that have a vanilla flavor are produced with synthetic essences, which are usually made using alcohol from timber trees.
In production laboratories, it is possible to reproduce the so-called vanillin, which is one of the more than 170 substances that make up real vanilla oil.
In some recipes, especially those in which vanilla is not the main ingredient, essences made in the laboratory provide a very satisfactory result.
However, in some preparations where the flavor is the big star, as with French crème pâtissière or even in artisanal ice creams where the vanilla flavor must be very evident, the use of real fava beans makes a lot of difference.
Therefore, the market for the production of original and non-synthetic vanilla always remains heated, since the demands are constant for the bean.
But if you want to know more details about the plant and how the production process of synthetic essences works, we have prepared a complete article on the subject. Keep reading to check it out!
What is vanilla? Where does the vanilla scent come from?
Good, but what is vanilla?
To fully understand why the plant is so expensive and also how the more affordable alternatives began to appear, it is ideal to understand how vanilla production works.
It comes from the orchids of the Vanilla genus, mainly the Vanilla planifolia.
This is a species of the flower that was discovered in Mexico, still in the XNUMXth century, conquering all of Europe soon after. But there is a problem with all this: orchids of the Vanilla genus do not grow well in cold climates, needing tropical regions to grow.
Thus, their production never took off in Europe, and in Mexico, their pollination was done by bees, which also prevented large-scale production, until the XNUMXth century.
But that problem was solved when a boy enslaved in the Réunion Islands, off the east coast of Africa, created a method of manually pollinating orchids. Basically, the technique consisted of using a wooden toothpick to push the rostellum away, joining the male and female parts of the plant with your fingers.
This technique is still used today.
Then, after being pollinated, the vanillas develop green pods, which are their broad beans, which are so valued in cooking. But in their natural state, the fruits have no taste at all, and to obtain the aroma that is so popular, it is necessary to dry the beans in the sun or in an oven, which takes much longer.
What is vanilla essence?
The flavor that is so characteristic of vanilla and that you probably like comes from the drying process of your beans, as you can see above. It is at this time that the natural fermentation of plant compounds occurs, mainly vanillin.
The so-called "vanilla essence" as it is also called, is very common in markets and is just vanillin synthesized from other plants. Timber trees are species widely used to obtain this substance.
However, vanilla extract is produced while the vanilla beans are soaked in alcohol – usually in vodka, which is a neutral flavored drink.
It is possible to make this extract at home, putting three fava beans in a bottle with vodka, and after three months, use this extract in recipes. Remembering that you can also top up the bottle with more vodka to extract the flavor for longer.
How to plant vanilla?
And as stated in the text, orchids of the Vanilla genus do not do very well in cold climates, that is, they need tropical climates, temperatures that are above 21°C and with good rainfall.
The planting of Vanilla is made from cuttings with about 40 centimeters on average, and some can also reach 1 meter as well. In the soil, some nodes are buried, after the removal of the leaves.
These plants can take four to six weeks to root, but the plant takes a few years to grow to fruit.
Remembering that Vanilla orchids are vines and are not so close to the sun, so for them to grow healthy it is essential that they have support and shade that can be trees.
As soon as the plant grows, it is necessary to carry out the manual pollination process, always on the day it opens, as the flowers that are not pollinated fall quickly. As this process is carried out, new flowers appear and must also be pollinated.
After that, it takes six to nine months for the fruit to form until the harvest period.
At the end of the harvest, the vanilla beans must be cured, so that they can generate the flavor and be marketed and consumed.
Today, the world's largest producer of vanilla is the island of Madagascar, located in East Africa.
But precisely because of the high prices and also the lack of organization in the island's crops – which greatly compromises the quality of the product – the country's leadership position has been threatened.
Brazil, despite not having a common culture of planting vanilla, produces the plant in some regions, as is the case of the North and Northeast of Brazil.