Do you know…
the link between orchids and vanilla?
The vanilla plant is a tropical vine, which can reach a length
of over one hundred feet.
It belongs to one of the oldest and largest group of flowering
plants – the orchids.
Of all the orchids, the vanilla family is the only one that
produces an agriculturally valuable crop.
Where, what and how?
The Vanilla Orchid (Vanilla planifolia) grows wild on
the edges of tropical forests. It has thick, fleshy stems and small,
greenish flowers which open early in the morning ready to be pollinated
by hummingbirds and bees. The flowers have only a slight scent,
with no element of the vanilla flavour or aroma. Once pollinated,
the ovaries swell and develop into fruits called ‘pods’
similar to long, thin runner beans. They contain thousands of tiny
black seeds. The pods develop over 4 weeks; they are then harvested,
dried and cured to produce the distinctive flavour we know and love.
The pods are often used whole (being split and the tiny beans scraped
into the mixture) to infuse flavour into cream and custard based
The Vanilla Orchid in the Palm House at Kew flowers every year
and we hand-pollinate it in order to produce pods.
Not just for ice cream…
Vanilla is one of the most popular flavours in the world. It was
first used by the Aztec people, in its native Central America, to
At Kew we use vanilla to add flavour to our caster sugar – simply
pierce the vanilla pod with a sharp knife in several places
and then add to your sugar and store in an airtight container.
Use this sugar to enhance your bread and butter puddings, crème
brulée, sugar glazed fruits and other desserts.
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