The vanilla bean plant (Vanilla planifolia) belongs to the Orchidaceae or orchid familymembers. This plant originates from tropical forests located in Mexico and Central America at U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 10 and 11, where it stays warm nearly year round. Today most vanilla beans are produced in Madagascar; Reunion, formerly called Bourbon; and Indonesia. The vanilla orchid climbs up tree trunks, grasping the wood together with fleshy roots, in which it produces greenish-yellow flowers 2 inches broad. With pollination, the vanilla bean develops on the plant.
Vanilla plant flowers resemble typical orchid blossoms, but they last just one day if not pollinated. The flowers are hand-pollinated since these orchids are generally grown out of the native surroundings without access to their pollinators located in the wild. Pollination is only successful if done in the early hours on precisely the same day that the flower opened. Otherwise pollinated, the orchid blossom dries up and falls off the plant.
Vanilla beans are the 6- to 9-inch-long seed pods of the orchid. The beans develop just on mature plants that have got 10 feet or more in height. It takes approximately five months for the beans to ripen. Once the beans are harvested and cured, the vital oils found in the seeds and in the oil liquid surrounding the seeds are used. This oil is used to flavor ice creams, puddings, sauces, deserts and other types of cooking. Vanilla is also used in cigars, perfumes and liqueurs.
The Aztecs in Mexico used the vanilla bean to flavor a beverage called xocolatl. This beverage was a mixture of chocolate, honey and vanillathat has been drunk by Montezuma. Cortez got the beverage from Montezuma when the Spanish invaded Mexico. Vanilla beans were shipped back to Europe starting in the 16th century, even in which their use spread across the world.
Vanilla bean plants grow best when the air temperatures are between 80 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit, meaning they require a heated greenhouse in many climates. They require bright shade and high humidity, which equals daily misting, but not wet soil. Growth of the orchid plant stops when subjected to temperatures below 55 degrees Fahrenheit. This plant needs some sort of support to climb, and flowering generally starts within 1 to 3 years after planting.