Where Does Vanilla Extract Come From?

Vanilla has become well known to most people as its aroma and flavor are easily recognizable, but only a few people are familiar with its origin. This flavoring is commonly used in household kitchens and the food industry in baking cookies, cakes, and other confectioneries. However, many are still unaware of where it comes from. Most people assume it’s an artificial flavoring chemical that was chemically derived, but vanilla extract comes from the vanilla plant with some processing. In this article, we’ll explore the history of vanilla extract and where it comes from, and many more interesting facts.

What is Vanilla Extract?

Vanilla extract is an essential flavoring extract gotten from the aromatic pods of the Vanilla Planifolia plant. The extract comes in the form of a brown liquid that’s aromatic, with little or no alcohol content. For every tablespoon of vanilla extract, there is at least a pound of beans.

The Origin and History of Vanilla Extract

The extraction of the vanilla flavor can be traced back about 600 years to the Totonac people of Mexico’s eastern coast. The Totonac peoples were the first to cultivate the Vanilla Plant( Vanilla Planifolia) and used the pods and flowers for various traditional and ritual purposes. The Totonac peoples would steep the vanilla pods in their cocoa drink, combined with honey and water for a sweet, flavored drink.

After the conquest of Mexico, it was European explorers who brought the vanilla pods to Europe, where it was a luxury product in high demand. Despite this demand, it wasn’t until the nineteenth century that people succeeded in cultivating the Vanilla Planifolia outside Mexico successfully. Replanting of Vanilla Planifolia was done in other tropical regions where the plant flourishes, such as Madagascar, Uganda, Papua New Guinea, and other parts of the world with similar climates.

How is Vanilla Extract Made?

The process of creating Vanilla Extract is relatively simple. The green, podlike Vanilla Planifolia beans are harvested, cured, and fermented, then extracted in a process that creates the aromatic concentrated extract.

Since the vanilla bean’s aroma is primarily a result of vanillin, a chemical that occurs naturally in the plant, it follows that the process of making Vanilla Extract involves the controlled conversion of the plant’s vanilla into vanillin by letting the bean cure and ferment. Afterwards, the extract is made by macerating the vanilla beans in a mixture of alcohol and water. The vanilla flavor is then extracted through the process that is aided when heat is applied in the right amount.

What are the Uses of Vanilla Extract?

Vanilla extract has so many uses in different industries such as:

  • Kitchen/Baking Industry
  • Medicine and Pharmaceuticals
  • Cosmetics Industry
  • Fragrance and Perfume Industry
  • Tobacco Industry
  • Beverages – Wine, Beer, and Soft Drinks

The Different Types of Vanilla Extract

There are essentially three types of Vanilla Extract, and they include:

  • Single-Fold Vanilla Extract
  • Double-Fold Vanilla Extract
  • Triple-Fold Vanilla Extract

While each type of vanilla extract is made similarly, the differences between them lie in the number of beans used in relation to the volume of liquid used to create the extract. Manufacturers often indicate and label the fold category of their Vanilla Extract on the packaging.

Substitutes of Vanilla Extract

In cooking and baking, it is possible to substitute Vanilla Extract with other vanilla flavorings to achieve similar results. These substitutes include:

  • Vanilla Bean
  • Vanilla Powder
  • Imitation Vanilla Extract
  • Maple Syrup
  • Molasses

Where is Vanilla Extract Grown?

Vanilla thrives in limited regions globally but needs specific climatic conditions such as a warm, tropical climate, adequate rainfall, and low altitude (less than 600 meters). The major producers of Vanilla Extract include Madagascar, Mexico (the original home of the Vanilla Planifolia plant), Uganda, Papua New Guinea, and Indonesia.

Madagascar Vanilla Extract

Vanilla production is a significant driver of Madagascar’s economy, making up almost half of the country’s agricultural exports, with the most produced variety being the Bourbon variety. The Bourbon variety of vanilla is smooth, full-bodied, and slightly sweet. Since Madagascar’s climate is ideal for growing vanilla, most of the Vanilla Extract we use today comes from Madagascar.

Mexican Vanilla Extract

The Vanilla Planifolia plant originally sprouted in Mexico, and over the years, the Mexican cultivation region has dwindled drastically. The yield from some of the older vines has also reduced, leading to even fewer Mexican Vanilla Extracts in the market. However, Mexico is still a significant player in Vanilla Extract production due to its high-quality beans with notable vanilla scent properties.

Ugandan Vanilla Extract

Ugandan Vanilla Extract has come to assume increased recognition in the global name due to its fine and delicate profiles. Uganda is considered a newer player in the vanilla trade, but it has grown to become one of the more significant global producers of Vanilla Extract.

Conclusion

Vanilla Extract has grown in popularity and has continued to be a vital ingredient in the food, cosmetics, fragrance, and medical industries. The journey from the Totonac people of Mexico to different parts of the world signifies how far-reaching the use of vanilla has become. It’s no longer considered an exotic ingredient but an essential one.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • 1. What is Vanilla Extract made from?
    • Vanilla Extract is made using Vanilla Planifolia pods that are steeped in alcohol and water.
  • 2. Where is Vanilla Extract from?
    • Vanilla Extract is native to Mexico and is grown in tropical regions such as Madagascar and Uganda.
  • 3. What are the Different Types of Vanilla Extract?
    • The three types of Vanilla Extract are Single-Fold, Double-Fold, and Triple-Fold Vanilla Extract.
  • 4. Can Vanilla Extract be substituted?
    • Yes, Vanilla Extract can be substituted with other vanilla flavorings like Vanilla Powder, Imitation Vanilla, and Maple Syrup.
  • 5. What are the Uses of Vanilla Extract?
    • Vanilla Extract finds use in the food industry, baking industry, medicine, and pharmaceuticals.

References:

  • Madagascar Vanilla – A vanilla like no other. (n.d.). Retrieved 24th May, 2021, from https://vanillamadagascar.com/madagascar-vanilla-a-vanilla-like-no-other
  • The Spruce Eats. (2021, March 9). What Is Vanilla Extract? Retrieved May 24, 2021, from https://www.thespruceeats.com/what-is-vanilla-extract-1328474
  • Vanilla: Origin, Uses, Flavors, & Facts. (n.d.). Retrieved 24th May, 2021, from https://www.britannica.com/plant/vanilla
  • Vanilla Facts – Vanilla Planifolia. (n.d.). Retrieved 24th May, 2021, from https://www.organicfacts.net/vanilla.html

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