If you are looking to try whole vanilla beans, there is a world of options to choose from. Did you know 80 percent of the world’s vanilla is produced in Madagascar? Why this island off the west coast of Africa? It has the perfect temperature and climate for growing vanilla.
But there are other emerging markets around the world such as Indonesia and Uganda and interestingly enough all vanilla originally came from Mexico. Mexico is the birthplace of vanilla and it originated there and a few hundred years ago, some enterprising folks brought vanilla beans to Madagascar from Mexico. However, in Madagascar, there are no natural pollinators so every single vanilla pod is pollinated by hand. This is back-breaking and labor-intensive work. One of the reasons why vanilla is the second most expensive spice to produce after saffron.
Right now at the Vanilla Bean Project, we offer two origins-Madagascar and Papua New Guinea. I think it is fascinating that they are actually two different varieties of vanilla beans.
Vanilla is the fruit of an orchid. And if that isn’t cool enough already. Did you know that vanilla is grown on green vines and they look like green beans? These vines take three to four years to grow before they develop flowers. The vanilla orchid flowers only last one day and need to be hand-pollinated during that time. Can you believe that? So plantation farmers need to check on the vines daily. Each bean is ready to be harvested at a different time, the farmers need to check the beans to see if they are ready and harvest them every day. After harvesting, they then have to go through an extensive curing process which is when the vanilla pods develop the distinctive deep almost black color.
The vanilla bean pods we sell from Madagascar are of the plant species-Planifolia.
These vanilla beans have your classic vanilla flavor. I think it is interesting to note that Madagascar Bourbon-has no actual bourbon in it. Bourbon is the former name of one of the islands where the vanilla is grown in Madagascar. While you will commonly see Madagascar Bourbon. Feel confident (or disappointed) in knowing that there is no bourbon involved. However, alcohol used in extracting the vanilla extract but in commercial applications it is most commonly grain alcohol which is topic for another blog post, but coincidently there is a deep almost rum like flavor in these whole vanilla beans.
I think the vanilla beans from Papua New Guinea look really cool. I also think experiencing vanilla beans from other lesser known locales is interesting. They are of the variety –Tahitensis. They look noticeably bigger and thicker than the Madagascar beans. Beans from Papua New Guinea have long been a favorite of pastry chefs because of the light floral notes. As my husband would say, there are no bad choices. Picking out the perfect beans is a lot like picking wines. The simple nuances and different flavor profiles are a personal preference and offer a lifetime of happy and delicious culinary exploration.
We recommend that you try both and let us know what you think!