Vanilla in Madagascar

Passion Gousse de Vanille
6 min readJul 13, 2022

One of the best vanillas in the world is said to be the bourbon vanilla from Madagascar. The best quality vanilla on the market with beautiful vanilla beans with a deep black color, and it comes from Madagascar. Découvrez les gousses de vanille de Toamasina.

Despite the controversy surrounding the name bourbon and Madagascar vanilla, the country of origin of vanilla in its planifolia variety is Mexico, not Madagascar. Bourbon vanilla is a true invitation to leave, a tasty journey to the heart of the Indian Ocean. Discover its introduction to Madagascar as it travels from one ocean to the other!

Buy your vanilla beans at Comptoir de Toamasina, the French vanilla specialist

Vanille de Madagascar

The origin of vanilla: The Azirapes and the Totonapes

The vanilla orchid belongs to the family of tropical lianescent orchids. The first to have cultivated vanilla would have been the Totonaques, on the east coast of Mexico. Vanilla is native to South and Central America and the Caribbean. When the Aztecs conquered the Totonaques in the 15th century, they were able to obtain vanilla.

The Spanish, in turn, obtained it when they conquered the Aztecs. According to one story, Hernán Cortés introduced it to Western Europe, although at the time, his other American imports, which included jaguars, possums, an armadillo and an entire basketball team with cloth balls, overshadowed it.

Vanilla-Chocolate: a classic combination that is still appreciated

The Aztecs drank their chocolate with a hint of vanilla, and after the Europeans got used to this spicy substance. Before Hugh Morgan, a creative physician working for Queen Elizabeth I, invented chocolate-free treats that tasted like vanilla, vanilla was considered a mere additive to chocolate.

The queen loved them. It immediately attracted attention. The next century saw the French using vanilla to flavor ice cream, a discovery made by Thomas Jefferson in 1780 while living in Paris as the American minister to France. He was so delighted that he copied a recipe that is now housed in the Library of Congress.

The long history of vanilla recipes

The arrival of vanilla in cookbooks is late. Food history expert Waverley Root says Hannah Glasse’s The Art of Cookery, published in 1805, contains the first recorded recipe for vanilla, which suggests adding “vanelas” to chocolate.

The first American recipe for vanilla ice cream is found in Mary Randolph’s book, The Virginia Housewife. The demand for vanilla continued to grow in the second half of the 20th century. Not only was it the flavor of choice for ice cream, but it was also a crucial component of gins and tonics, including the impressively advertised Coca-Cola “brain tonic of the esteemed and intellectual” created by Atlanta chemist John S. Pemberton in 1886.

The cultivation of vanilla in Madagascar produces it in a slow and meticulous way.

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world (after saffron) due to the laborious nature of its manufacture. Vanilla grows like a clinging vine from which emerge yellow and pale green flowers called vanilla flowers.

These are pollinated by melipon bees in Mexico, the vanilla’s natural habitat. Each flower stays open for only 24 hours before closing, dying and falling to the ground if not pollinated.

Beautiful green vanilla beans, or “capsules” as they are called in botany, are produced from the vanilla flowers.

The production of vanilla requires a lot of time, patience and precision. Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla respects all the steps of the process in order to obtain a high quality final product while offering customers a favorable quality/price ratio.

Manual pollination of vanilla: The beginnings of vanilla

Louis XIV ordered the importation of vanilla to the island of Bourbon in the 1860s because he believed that the tropical, humid climate would allow the vanilla plant to produce the exquisite pods that were so highly prized. However, even if it worked in Mexico, there were no beans on Bourbon Island. The Melipone beetle, the only insect capable of destroying vanilla, was missing!

On the island of Bourbon, a second attempt to cultivate vanilla was made at the request of Commander Pierre-Henri Philibert Marchand. However, as the melipona was still not present, the results were obviously not those expected.

A fruit that develops into a pod 16 to 26 cm long (on average 20 cm) and filled with thousands of tiny black seeds (the tantalizing spots of good quality vanilla ice cream) if pollination is successful. Until 1841, when Edmond Albius, a 12-year-old slave from the Indian Ocean island of Reunion, learned to manually pollinate vanilla flowers with a stick and a pinch of salt, the introduction of vanilla to tropical regions likely favorable to the world’s vanilla supply, but lacking the necessary bees, remained entirely unsuccessful. The basic procedure has important ramifications. Vanilla farms have been established all over the world, from Madagascar to Indonesia to Tahiti.

Vanillin: the aroma of vanilla

Between 250 and 500 distinct aromas and flavors can be found in a teaspoon of vanilla, making it a very subtle and complex food. The most important of these is vanillin, which is fairly easy to synthesize despite its ungainly chemical name. Vanillin can be made from petroleum products, lignin, a byproduct of wood pulp and paper production, and eugenol, an ingredient in clove oil. It can also be made from castor oil, a melanin-containing secretion from the anal glands of cattle, but this is definitely an inferior source.

Madagascar is the world’s largest producer of vanilla

Although Madagascar provides 80% of the world’s vanilla, the delicate beans that garnish every dessert do not originate from this island. The only place in the world where vanilla is grown naturally, that is, by an endemic insect, is Mexico. The best vanilla beans in the world are 20 cm long and of incredible quality. Initially introduced in the Mascarenes before being imported to Madagascar in the early 19th century. The vanilla comes from the SAVA region (Sambava, Antalaha, Vohemar, Andapa).

Bourbon vanilla, very appreciated in confectionery, is also a pure delight in the creation of arranged rums.

Bourbon vanilla pastry from Madagascar : A very nice vanilla flavor

Although the term “Bourbon vanilla” originates from a neighboring island of Madagascar, today it is most often associated with the Vanilla Planifolia variety of vanilla, which grows in many places, including the Comoros, Madagascar, Tanzania, Papua New Guinea, Uganda, etc.

But only the islands in the Indian Ocean can have the appellations.

More than 80% of the world’s vanilla bean supply is produced in Madagascar.

This vanilla monopoly is justified by the abundance of large vanilla houses, small business owners who participate in the industry, as well as solo preparers and entire families, in Madagascar. The cooks are highly skilled and competitive given the cost savings of vanillin.

How did vanilla bourbon get its name?

The Bourbon family, a French royal family, made a stop on the island of Reunion, formerly known as Mascareignes, on their journey to India. The Bourbons decided to rename the island Isle Bourbon.

The name Bourbon is to differentiate the vanilla planifolia world of that which will come from the Indian Ocean.

the different varieties of vanilla

Whatever their shape, the vanilla beans of Madagascar are superb. Indeed, bourbon vanilla is perfect for creating a vanilla extract.

It is also very tasty and pure in vanilla powder. But the most popular form is definitely vanilla bean, which is still the purest, rawest and most organic version. Vanilla, which can be found in many different forms, has its own market.

Top chefs who use a touch of vanilla in their culinary preparations are very fond of gourmet black vanilla from Madagascar because of its powerful fragrance and aromatic power.

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Passion Gousse de Vanille
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