Natural Vanilla Fertilization
Fertilization of the vanilla plant is an essential step in obtaining vanilla beans. Without fertilization of the vanilla flower, there is no fruit. The fertilizing role of vanilla is held by the Melipona bee, which is a bee common in the hot zones of Mexico.
The climate necessary for the cultivation of vanilla
Vanilla needs a warm and humid climate to grow. Indeed, vanilla trees grow in tropical areas. Buy Vanille de Madagascar
The cultivation of vanilla requires :
a temperature between 21 to 32 ° C,
a distributed annual rainfall of 1500 mm or more,
and a humidity of 80%.
an altitude of 0 to 600 m above sea level.
The main characteristics that the soils must respect for the production of vanilla are:
- Good drainage,
An abundant organic matter
Its pH values of 6 to 7.
It is important to note that the production requires staking trees
The depth of the soil must be 40 cm or more.
Vanilla cultivation is very labor intensive and it can take up to 5 years for a plant to mature and produce vanilla pods. After being planted and reaching the third year of growth, the Vanilla planifolia variety will flower. The full vine will bloom over the course of about 2 months. Each flower is open for 24 hours, but must be pollinated within 8 to 12 hours, otherwise the flower will wilt, fall off the vine and no pods can be produced. However, the means by which, pollination occurs, are not as simple as it may seem.
Mexico, home of the Melipona bee
For a very long time, Mexico was the only producer of vanilla of the variety Vanilla planifolia, because vanilla had no natural insect pollinators elsewhere in the world. Attempts were made to introduce the plants to other places with similar climates and environments, but without this endemic pollinator, all attempts were unsuccessful. The vanilla flowers did bloom, but no vanilla bean was produced. Much later, it was discovered that it was pollinated primarily by small bees called the Melipona bee.
The Melipona bee, endemic species of vanilla and honey in Mexico
There are about 500 species of stingless Melipona bees in tropical and subtropical areas around the world. These bees, mainly nesting in southern countries and more precisely, Central America, cannot survive in temperate climates.
In Mexico, the most famous bee of the Yucatán Peninsula is Melipona beecheii, known by the Mayans as Xunan Kab, or Regal Lady Bee, which means royal lady. These species of Melipona bees live in small colonies. These bees have the particularity of not stinging and of having a role of “pacifist” contrary to the European bees which are famous for having the appellation of “killer bees”. Besides, the honey provided by European bees is less sweet than the honey produced by Melipona bees.
The Maya had a tradition of thanking the god Ah Musen Cab (god of honey and bees) for the honey and wax provided by the wild bee. A colony of melipones could provide a very large annual quantity of honey.
The only bee species able to pollinate vanilla!
This species of bee (Melipone) is the only one able to pollinate vanilla flowers in a natural way. Indeed, thanks to this insect, the vanilla tree provides a green and long fruit commonly called vanilla bean.
A hermaphrodite plant unable to self-fertilize
Vanilla planifolia is a hermaphrodite plant, that is, it has both male and female parts. The flower of the vanilla plant is in itself self-fertile, but it is incapable of self-pollination. The pollen from vanilla flowers is also largely inaccessible to most pollinating insects. It takes external action to transfer pollen from an anther to the stigma, or to lift the thin membrane preventing self-fertilization, or rostellum, and press the flower’s anther against the stigma.
Vanilla planifolia and many other species of flowering plants require double fertilization of the fruit. An adaptation that allows the flower to focus its energy on producing seeds that have the best chance of growth and survival. If the flower is cross-pollinated, as insects often do, the seeds are viable and can produce further generations of viable offspring. However, if the flower is self-pollinated, it produces only sterile seeds.
The different varieties of vanilla
There are many varieties of vanilla beans, but there are only three main species of orchids grown for commercial vanilla production.
1. Vanilla Planifolia
Vanilla Planifolia is the most common species of vanilla orchid. It is the first species of vanilla orchid — the plant to which all vanilla roots can be traced. The pods contain vanilla beans that emit a rich, intense flavor and aroma. It is the most powerful variety of vanilla.
2. Tahitensis Vanilla
Vanilla Tahitensis is a very close cousin of Vanilla Planifolia. It takes its name from the island (Tahitian vanilla) on which its commercial cultivation began, although its origin is debated among botanists and vanilla lovers.
Some claim it was an intentional hybridization, others believe it was a natural evolution, and there are scientific studies that suggest it is a bit of both — a natural hybridization between Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Odorata, which occurred in Mayan forests. Regardless of how Vanilla Tahitensis originated, pastry chefs around the world would be lost without it. This vanilla is prized for its subtle sweetness and unparalleled floral properties. Vanilla Tahitensis is also most commonly found in perfumes, due to its floral aroma.
3. Vanilla Pompona
Vanilla pompona is a species of vanilla orchid. It is native to Mexico and northern South America. It is now cultivated in the West Indies.
The different forms of vanilla: There is something for everyone!
With so many vanilla choices, how do you know which one is right for you? Let me explain a few things, and then it may be easier for you to determine which of the different forms of vanilla is right for you!
Vanilla extract is the most widely used of the three vanilla options, and that’s probably because it’s the most affordable. It is also very simple to make, simply soak vanilla beans in a mixture of water and alcohol until the beans separate and liquefy.
Today there are two different types of extracts: pure and imitation. Most people use the imitation. Synthetic vanilla extract is not as strong as pure extract and can have a strong alcoholic aftertaste, but keep in mind that it is less expensive. I recommend when purchasing an extract, spend a little more on the 100% natural extract to get a better flavor.
Vanilla powder is made from crushed vanilla beans. It is very simple to make. When your bean is already used, that is, split and scraped, you can recycle it by grinding it into vanilla powder. Most recipes require a teaspoon or less of vanilla powder. Pure vanilla bean-based vanilla powder can be sprinkled on baked goods like chocolate chip cookies, donuts or toast for a sweet, fragrant flavor. Add it to coffee or use it to infuse your homemade pancake or waffle mixes.
Vanilla powder is a great alternative to vanilla extract when it comes to baked goods that can’t hold extra liquid or use high temperature methods
If you want a strong vanilla smell and flavor in your culinary creations, vanilla beans are the way to go. Long, fat, brown, vanilla has lots of tiny little seeds (that’s vanillin!).
As a rule of thumb, one vanilla bean equals 2–3 teaspoons of pure extract. You can make your own vanilla extract by taking a vanilla bean, cutting it in half lengthwise, and placing the whole thing (seed + split bean) in about 3/4 cup of vodka (or rum to your liking!). Be sure to cover it well and let it macerate for 4–6 months before using it in your cooking.