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Vanilla planifolia (vanilla)

Vanilla planifolia is the source of vanilla, one of the most popular flavours in the world, and weight for weight, one of the most valuable spice crops.
Illustration of Vanilla planifolia

Illustration of Vanilla planifolia by Matilda Smith (1854-1926), from Curtis's Botanical Magazine, Vol. 117.

Species information

Scientific name: 

Vanilla planifolia Jacks.

Common name: 

vanilla

Conservation status: 

Not assessed according to IUCN Red List criteria, but not known to be endangered in the wild.

Habitat: 

Tropical forests.

Key Uses: 

As a flavouring agent; in perfumery; in medicines.

Known hazards: 

In rare cases vanilla can cause allergic reactions when eaten or applied to the skin.

Taxonomy

Subclass: 
Superorder: 
Lilianae
Order: 
Asparagales
Family: 
Orchidaceae
Genus: Vanilla

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.

Synonym: 

Notylia planifolia

Genus: 
Vanilla

main info

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