The Vanilla plant is an orchid native to Mexico. Its scientific name is Vanilla planifolia and from its fruits the fragrant spice known as vanilla is produced. For this reason it is widely cultivated, although its flowers are aesthetically pleasing. The plant is an epiphyte and grows in the undergrowth, on tree trunks. It develops aerial adventitious roots that absorb rain water and grow upwards for many meters to look for sunlight. Its leaves are deep green and fleshy, almost 15 cm long. The flowers are large, white, light yellow or greenish. The labellum is yellow, colored more intensely than the petals and the sepals. The flowers bloom one or two at a time, they live for two days but the flowering lasts for several months. The fruits are capsules between 12 and 25 cm long and contain thousands of small seeds.
Vanilla is grown in humid tropical forests, particularly in the Antilles, Reunion, Indonesia and Madagascar. It also needs a support on which to anchor and shade. Three types of cultivation are used: use the trunks of the undergrowth trees as supports; in alternate crops, for example with sugar cane; in the greenhouses. The grower performs the pruning, checks the correct anchoring and folds the plant so that the fruits are at eye level. The fertilization of the flower is performed manually, in the early morning because the flowers last a few hours, and in the absence of rain as harmful. Holding the flower gently in your hand, with a certain technique you make sure that the male part (stamen) comes into contact with the female part (stigma).
In our country, Vanilla can be purchased in specialized nurseries in orchids and cultivated in pots. It should be placed in a bright place but not in direct sunlight. The ideal temperature ranges from 16 to 25 degrees and it is advisable to place it on the veranda, in a non-cold landing or in a greenhouse. If placed in the house, you must be very careful about the humidity of the air, which must be at least 80%, otherwise it risks drying out. Water should be sprayed on the leaves at least twice a day. The adult plant measures up to 4 meters in height and a long and resistant guard is necessary to make it climb and fix it to it. Vanilla should be moderately wet, with not calcareous water, twice a week. In summer, fertilizer for orchids should be added every two weeks. In winter the waterings are not fertilized and reduced. The plant will flower after three years, in the summer season.
Vanilla plant: Commercial preparation of Vanilla
Once removed from the bush, the fruits of the Vanilla are almost odorless. To make this fragrant spice so appreciated, adequate preparation is required. Direct preparation is the simplest. It consists of maturing the pod by alternating sun exposure with shade. However the results are not always the best. Therefore the indirect preparation consisting in causing a shock that stops the vegetative life of the fruit is preferred. This is followed by processing, drying and sorting operations that last for many months, until the pod is ready for sale. The methods used for the shock are: passing the fruit from the oven to the cold, subjecting it to infrared or alcohol and bathing in hot water which is then the method currently most used. The pods must be at least 15 cm long, whole and twisted around the finger without breaking. The best will have on the surface of vanillin efflorescence and more intense perfume.