What Does Vanilla Flavoring Come From?
Vanilla flavoring and vanilla extract come from the same source, but they differ in where they’re used in recipes and how they’re prepared. Vanilla extract, which also goes by pure vanilla extract or pure vanilla, refers to the liquid that comes from ground vanilla beans that have been steeped in alcohol, typically vodka or rum. Vanilla flavoring, on the other hand, doesn’t come from real vanilla beans; it’s just regular alcohol with synthetic vanillin flavor added to it.
The history of vanilla
Vanilla is a vanilla flavoring come from orchid, indigenous to Central America and Mexico. Vanilla grew wildly throughout Mesoamerica until Spanish explorer Hernán Cortés discovered it in 1519. When Cortés returned to Spain with vanilla beans, other Europeans were quick to adopt the new flavour and spread it around their own countries and colonies. Today, vanilla is produced in countries all over world—however, most comes from Madagascar or Indonesia. In vanilla-producing countries, there are between 80–100 species of vanilla plants! That’s more than for many other crops!
Where vanilla comes from
The vanilla plant is native to Mexico, where it was first cultivated thousands of years ago. Today it’s mostly grown in Madagascar and Tahiti. Vanilla flavoring comes from a pod on each vine. Harvesting vanilla requires patience: It takes about nine months for pods to grow into full beans, and another two weeks for them to dry out completely. Once that happens, growers sort through dried beans by hand to remove excess skin, seeds and sticks—and then they ship their pods off to get turned into extract. It’s still possible to find virgin (or simply unadulterated) vanilla extracts on supermarket shelves but these days most consumers prefer an artificial form called vanillin. It’s made by chemically modifying lignin, a natural polymer found in trees. About 97 percent of vanillin produced is derived from petroleum or wood pulp waste products; the remaining 3 percent come from genetically modified corn cobs. So while synthetic vanillin doesn’t taste exactly like natural vanilla flavoring, chances are you won’t be able to tell when it’s slipped into your morning cup of coffee or holiday eggnog recipe.
How is vanilla extracted and grown?
Vanilla flavoring comes from a bean pod of an orchid that is indigenous to Mexico. Vanilla beans are actually not vanilla at all, but they are classified as one because they contain some of its key properties. In order to produce vanilla flavoring, you must extract it from either natural or synthetic sources—that means real vanilla comes only from two places: Tahiti and Madagascar. However, almost 90 percent of what’s used in food products is synthetic. Interestingly enough, 95 percent of Tahiti’s economy relies on exporting vanilla flavorings.
Why do we like it so much?
Vanilla is a flavor that’s distinctly delicious. In fact, we’ve grown so accustomed to its taste that it can be hard to imagine life without it. But where does vanilla flavoring come from anyway? Vanilla originated in Mexico and Central America, though today most of what we see in grocery stores and bakeries comes from Madagascar. Here’s how it happens: First, vanilla orchids are planted in fields with long, hot summers and short cool winters. To grow vanilla, farmers use shade houses to protect their orchids from direct sunlight; if you’ve ever been curious about why vanilla costs more than chocolate, part of it is because vanillin-the primary component that gives vanilla its unique taste-is extremely sensitive to light. Next, when each flower begins to blossom, hand-pollination must take place immediately. If it isn’t pollinated within hours after opening up, there will be no vanilla beans for us! Afterward, flowers dry for several days before being harvested by hand and split open into caviar-small black seeds surrounded by tiny white pods known as beans. These are left out to dry for an additional two weeks until they’re ready for curing. At least 36 hours must pass before curing can begin–this process helps deepen flavor as well as improve texture. And that’s just half of how we get our hands on one of our favorite flavors!