If you’re intrigued to know more about the different types of vanilla vines, this article will outline everything you need to know about the two core types in existence today. In another article, we discuss the many different types of vanilla beans. We’ve also written another post about the differences between Grade A and Grade B beans.
However, for today’s post, we are exclusively looking at the two different species of vanilla orchids that are primarily grown and cultivated for the commercial production of vanilla.
The two different species of vanilla vines are actually very closely related. Vanillas Tahitensis is a close cousin of the other type of vine we will move on to discuss in the next section. While the true origins of the Vanilla Tahitensis are the subject of much debate within the botany community, history states that this species of the vanilla vine takes its name from the island where the initial commercial cultivation of the bean started.
While many people believe the hybridization, which took place in the Maya Cacao forests between 1350-1500, was man-made and fully intentional, there are others who feel that the evolution of this species of vanilla vine occurred more naturally. When we look at the scientific source, there are actually cases that support both sides of the coin. Its origins are first reported to have been documented in 1933 where a botanist named John William Moore discovered it growing on trees. The Vanilla Tahitensis is a polyploid species, a cross between Vanilla Odorata and Vanilla Planifolia.
Irrespective of how this particular species of vanilla vine came into existence, professional chefs around the globe would be lost without it. Vanilla Tahitensis is highly regarded for its unrivaled floral properties and its ever so subtle sweetness. It is also widely utilized as a fragrance due to its highly appealing floral aroma.
The pods of the Vanilla Tahitensis are actually flavorless when they get picked; the aromas and flavors come to fruition during the curing process. When the plant reaches the age of three years, it then starts to flower. However, the flowers only last for a single day, so they must be pollinated quickly. It then takes a further nine months for the pods to develop, and when they change color and turn a reddish-brown hue, they are then harvested by hand. Once harvested, they are left to dry in the sun during the day, then during the night time, they are placed into sweatboxes. The process of fermentation and curing lasts for a total of around three months. It is at this point the pods become oily and supple.
This is the most popular and more common species of the vanilla orchid. In fact, the Vanilla Planifolia is actually the original vanilla species and the first known vanilla species in existence. The earliest date we knew of this species was when it was first named scientifically in 1808. All vanilla roots can be traced back in one way or another to this variety. The pods on this orchid emit a rich vanilla flavor and a dreamy aroma. In terms of potency, it is the most potent species of all and can easily help to add an infusion of an earthy, deep flavor into almost any dish, side, or sauce.
The Vanilla Planifolia is native to Madagascar, the Caribbean, Central America, Northern South America, and Mexico. This species prefers to be grown in wet, tropical, hot climates. It is also referred to as West Indian Vanilla and Flat-leaved Vanilla. The fruit of the plant is only obtained from mature plants, which can grow over 10 feet long. The long pods, which are also known as beans, grow between 6-9 inches in length. They have the appearance of small bananas and mature after a period of around five months. At this point, the pods are harvested and cured, a process that dries and ferments the pods while protecting the loss of any essential oils. This is the part of the plant where vanilla extract comes from.