Vanilla planifolia (vanilla)
Illustration of Vanilla planifolia by Matilda Smith (1854-1926), from Curtis's Botanical Magazine, Vol. 117.
Vanilla planifolia Jacks.
Not assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria, but not known to be endangered in the wild.
As a flavouring agent; in perfumery; in medicines.
In rare cases vanilla can cause allergic reactions when eaten or applied to the skin.
About this species
Vanilla is one of the most popular flavours in the world and was first used by the Aztec people in Mexico to flavour cocoa.
The vanilla orchid Vanilla planifolia grows wild in tropical forests and belongs to one of the oldest and largest groups of flowering plants – the orchids (Orchidaceae). Of all the orchids, the vanillas (members of the Vanilla genus) are the only ones that produce an agriculturally valuable crop, and 95% of the world’s traded vanilla pods are derived from just one species – V. planifolia.
After pollination, vanilla pods develop over four weeks and are then harvested, dried and cured to produce the distinctive flavour we know and love. The pods may be used whole, or split and the tiny seeds scraped out, to infuse cream and custard-based sauces.