Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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vanilla obtained from the cured pods of the plant Vanilla planifolia, is one of the few tropical spices indigenous to the New World, and one of the most popular flavourings worldwide for confectionery and other sweet foods.

V. planifolia, a plant of C. America where it grows wild on the fringes of the Mexican tropical forests, is a vine with thick, fleshy green stems and long leathery leaves. Its small greenish flowers open early in the morning, for at most eight hours, and are pollinated, it is thought, exclusively by humming birds and melipone bees. The fruits—yellow-green pods up to 30 cm (12") long—develop within four weeks, and it is these, also called ‘beans’, which are harvested and treated to produce the vanilla flavour.