Do Your Vanilla Beans have Strange Markings? They are Actually Vanilla Bean Tattoos!
Have you recently purchased vanilla beans and noticed strange markings on them? Do not confuse these marking with mold. If you look a little more closely, you will realize that they are not insect bites or any other imperfection on the bean. They are actually markings intentionally put on the beans by vanilla bean farmers. These markings are known as vanilla bean tattoos. Yes, that’s exactly what I just said, vanilla bean tattoos. This trend has become ever more increasing in Madagascar. Why you may ask? It is actually quite simple. Price discovery. When the price of vanilla beans reached new all time highs in 2019, surpassing the price of silver, theft became increasingly common.
What Do the Markings Mean?
In recent years, the price of vanilla has been continuously increasing. This has paved the way for a rise in vanilla bean theft especially in the island of Madagascar, which is the world’s biggest producer of vanilla. Beans are being stolen right from the vine shortly before they are ripe enough for the regular harvest. The thievery is so rampant that farmers had to find effective and creative ways to protect their crops to prevent further theft. Thus, the mysterious markings on vanilla beans began. Most farmers typically use their intials.
How Are the Markings Placed on the Beans?
Typically, farmers use small pins or other similar instruments that are just about the size of a toothpick. They pierce their initials onto each vanilla bean with these sharp tools while it is still green and in the growing stages. As the beans mature, the markings will become more prominent. Many people wonder, don't they affect the quality of the vanilla? The surface of the beans is pierced, after all, so wouldn't that reduce the flavor or quality? Fortunately, no it has no ill effects besides a unique marking. The tattoos have no effect at all on the quality so you can enjoy the same rich vanilla flavor whether the beans are marked or not.
Even when the beans are harvested and cured, the “tattoos” are quite visible and often look like insect bites or some other natural damage, making some people hesitant to use them. However, there is no need to worry because these markings are perfectly safe and if you look closely, you can even make out the initials for yourself.
A Tedious but Necessary Process
As you can imagine, it is a very tedious procedure going through entire fields of vanilla just to make sure each bean is properly marked. Sadly, these are the laborious measures that must be taken by farmers in order to protect their crops. Without such measures, vanilla farmers will continue to suffer massive losses due to the widespread thievery, while consumers will also continue to feel the effects as more and more substandard beans make their way into the market.
It is interesting to note that tattooing the beans is actually just a small part of the labor-intensive process that vanilla goes through before it is brought to the market. There is also the time-consuming manual pollination process in the early stages, and the drying and curing process that can last up to several months.
Personally, I think it gives each beans a story and makes them all the more unique. I mean, these markings were made by hand so no two vanilla bean tattoos would be exactly the same. I find that kind of interesting, and definitely something to talk about with my friends the next time we enjoy our vanilla-flavored desserts.