The Spice Series: Vanilla

This is a continuation of my Spice Series. Welcome to my information on Vanilla!


Vanilla is the world’s most expensive crop after saffron and cardamom. This is because there is no alternative to hand pollination or hand harvesting.


The vanilla pod, which is black and aromatic when you buy it, is green and has no smell when it is first harvested. It turns black and gains its’ famous smell only after it has been properly aged/processed.

Vanilla is a vine and it is the only edible member of the orchid family.


Vanilla beans from different areas of the world such as Mexico, Madagascar and Tahiti each have a slightly different flavor and aroma. This is caused by the different growing conditions and differing methods of curing vanilla beans in the various parts of the world. These different “flavors” of vanilla are worth sampling so you can find the distinct vanilla bean flavor that you prefer.


This article includes information on the medicinal benefitsculinary uses, and even how to grow your own vanilla. I hope you like this material, and, as always, if you have any questions/comments/additional sources for me, please post in the comment section below! Enjoy!


Medicinal Uses:???a

**This is one of the few spices that has more culinary aspects than medicinal use. However, it still has some minor benefits as a stimulant and for fevers.


**Since it is the only edible member of the Orchid family, which many consider to be the loveliest of flowers, it has an ancient reputation as an aphrodisiac.


**The compound receiving the most scrutiny is the spice’s main constituent: vanillin. Studies show it may play a promising role in two conditions: (1) Cancer. Scientists have found that vanillin can possibly kill human cancer cells. Researchers have also found that vanillin can limit metastasis (the movement of cancer cells from their original site to the rest of the body). (2) Sickle cell anemia. Vanillin seems to show some promise in aiding those with this terrible disease. These tests are continuing at this time.


**It may also help reduce morning sickness and nausea among pregnant women.


**The greatest medicinal use of vanilla is due to its’ heady fragrance, which makes it ideal for aromatherapy. It helps reduce anxiety, nervousness and frustration and relaxes the mind.



Culinary Uses:vanillaextract

**Clearly, the most popular reason people use vanilla is because of its’ superb culinary uses. Who doesn’t love vanilla ice cream? Or vanilla lattes? Yum…


**Vanilla pairs well with these spices: Almond, Aniseed, Cardamom, Chile, Cinnamon, Clove, Cocoa, Ginger, Mint, and Nutmeg

**It also complements recipes that feature: Fruit, Milk, Cream, and Seafood.


**Here are some creative ways to get more vanilla in your diet: (1) Vanilla is exceptional with lobster, shrimp, or scallops. Make a cream sauce and spike it with vanilla beans; (2) Vanilla goes well with butter. Sweeten butter sauces for savory dishes featuring fish or chicken with a little vanilla; (3) Use vanilla to round out stronger flavors in salsas, chutney, and curries; (4) Steep a split vanilla bean in coffee, the cover and chill. Serve with whipped cream and nutmeg; (5) Add vanilla to fruit compotes featuring apples, gooseberries, and rhubarb to balance the tartness of the fruit; (6) Add a drop or two of vanilla extract to holiday eggnog, or when you are whipping fresh cream.


**The two best ways to purchase vanilla is as whole beans/pods or as an extract. Make sure you do not purchase imitation vanilla extract, which is less quality and hardly contains vanilla (and certainly not the beneficial vanillan) at all. Store vanilla beans or extract in an airtight container in a cool, dark place. Both keep for up to 18 months.


**An ounce of pure vanilla extract and a vanilla bean cost about the same. You can save money without losing flavor by making your own extract. It’s easy. Here’s how: take some vanilla beans, split them in half, and place them in a clean jar with an airtight lid. Pour in a half cup of vodka—any kind will do—and tightly seal. Put it in a cool place out of sunlight. Turn the jar every day for six weeks.

**You can remove the beans or keep them in the jar, adding more vodka as you start using the extract. There is no need to discard the pod after using it. Let it dry out and bury it in a canister of sugar. You can reuse it several times before it completely gives up its flavor, putting it back in the sugar each time. (You can use the vanilla-scented sugar, too.)



How to Grow:

Vanilla growing indoors
Vanilla growing indoors


**In its native habitat, a mature vanilla orchid vine can grow to 300 feet or greater. However, you can keep your vine to a manageable 20 feet in greenhouse conditions. Training the vine laterally instead of straight up allows you to get more vine in a smaller space.


**Growing vanilla in the garden or your greenhouse is fun. However, it requires more effort than growing some other plants.



**The vanilla orchid grows best in bright filtered shade and high humidity. Ideal temperatures are between 60-70 degrees F at night, and 80-95 degrees F during the day. The plants are not frost tolerant.

**Plant indoors in a greenhouse or your home unless you are fortunate to live in zone 10 or higher.

**Give your vanilla partial sun and put an orchid potting mix or sphagnum moss in with the soil.



**Start your vanilla orchid in a mixture of half bark and half orchid potting mix/sphagnum moss.


**Your cutting or small starter plant will need a combination of excellent drainage and nutrients to nourish the plant while the vine develops. After the vine develops roots, it will no longer depend on the roots in the potting mix.


**You need to buy either the plant or a cutting of the plant from the local nursery. While buying the cutting, ensure that there is at least one node and leaf on the stem.


**It takes about 3-4 years for your baby vanilla plant to bloom and then you can begin your harvesting.



**Vanilla should not be put in direct sunlight in your garden/greenhouse/home. Place it in a position where it will get dappled shade or indirect sunlight for best success.


**Like all orchids, the leading cause of death indoors is overwatering.  3 cubes of ice a week will give them all the water they need. However, if you can leave them in a humid environment, such as a greenhouse or bathroom, they need even less.


**Wherever you grow your vanilla orchid, you must provide this large vine with a sturdy support. In tropical climates, a large tree makes an ideal support. If you grow your vine in a conservatory or greenhouse, a solid wood trellis can support the plant.


**Fertilize your vanilla orchid every two weeks during the spring and summer with an orchid fertilizer. Mist your plant regularly and make every effort to keep an 80% humidity level.


**It takes 3-4years of good growth to bring a young plant into flower, so patience is needed. Plants seem to flower better once the vining stems have climbed to the top of a structure and then toppled over to dangle in the air.


**The flowers form at the leaf axils and emerge from short stems in clusters, with individual flowers opening successively over a period of many days or even weeks. The blooms are open only one day and need to be hand-pollinated to produce beans. After pollination, the young green pods (beans) grow very fast, reaching 8 to 10 inches long in a few weeks.


**One of the reasons that vanilla is so expensive is because you have to hand-pollinate them. In nature, there is only one kind of bee in one small area of Mexico that pollinates vanilla! Hand-pollinate the flowers in the morning with a chopstick. Remove pollen from the stamen of one flower and place it on the stigma of another flower. Pods will form within a week, and are ready to harvest in 9-10 months.


Anatomy of the Vanilla Flower
Anatomy of the Vanilla Flower

**There are many Youtube videos about hand pollinating vanilla flowers. Here is one that I found especially helpful:





**If pollination is successful, your three-year-old vanilla orchid will produce green bean-like pods from October through March. Good quality pods should be at least six inches long.


**Pick the beans when they begin to turn yellow.


**After vanilla is harvested, the pods have no smell or taste. Curing and processing are needed to bring out the flavor and aroma, particularly of the vanillan.


**To begin the curing/processing,  place the pods into boiling water for 2-4 minutes (you are blanching them). The blanched beans/pods are then transferred immediately to a wooden box lined with a blanket, for sweating and kept for 36-48 hours. The temperature initially is to be 48-50oC. By then, the beans will attain light brown color and start imparting aroma. If you cannot “sweat” the beans in a box with just a blanket, you can also wrap the beans/pods in plastic wrap.

**You can also try drying them in a place with low humidity and out of direct sunlight. This type of drying will take a few months.


**Beans are black when they are dry. After they are dry, store them in a well-ventilated place for a month or two more until they reach their peak flavor and fragrance.


**Once dried, soak 3 or 4 beans in 1/2 cup of vodka to make a strong, baker’s-quality vanilla extract and enjoy the fruits of your labor!



There you go! This is all of the information that I could find on Vanilla. Please click here for the introduction to my Spice Series. Again, if you have any comments, questions, or extra information for me, please feel free to post in the comment section below!

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  1. Thanks for the tips, we tried asparagus from seed last year, but only got a few to germinate. We are trying this year with more and starting indoor instead of planted directly into the plot- hopefully we will have better luck this year.

  2. I hope it goes well for you! I am impressed that you tried to grow them from seed. You gave yourself an extra challenge with that one! 🙂 Thanks for visiting my site!

  3. I have not yet tried to grow asparagus here in our new garden. I did have it on our urban homestead, and just as it came to maturity we moved. 🙁 I love that it is a perennial though and look forward to trying it again. Thank you for sharing this with us at the HomeAcre Hop. We’d love to have you back again tomorrow!

    1. What a bummer that you didn’t get to enjoy your harvest of asparagus! That is the sad thing about perennials. I had that with some of my herbs: once they were ready to give me their best, we moved, so I only enjoyed a bit of their harvest. I hope you try it again though! Thanks for visiting and commenting!

  4. Does asparagus spread and if so how quiqkly? Any reason why I shouldnt plant green and purple asparagus beside each other? Any plants it shouldnt grow near? Thank you 🙂

  5. […] Planting asparagus is a wonderful investment for a gardener, though it also requires a lot of patience since you have to wait 2-3 whole years before you can harvest your first full crop. In order to grow enough asparagus for a family of four, you need about 50 plants and thus about 250 square feet of land. If possible, the site should be sunny, though they will tolerate some shade (but then will be more susceptible to disease). It should be grown in its’ own plot section in the garden because the plants become so tall that they can easily shade plants growing next to them. Continue reading the instructions for growing asparagus at thehomesteadgarden.com. […]

  6. I am so happy that I found this spice info. You need to publish it as a book! Will be reading your info. Thank you and excellent job.

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