The genus vanilla (Vanilla planifolia, Vanilla pompona and Vanilla tahitensis) is a group of orchids that produces a fruit from which we get the aromatic spice known as vanilla.
This genus is common in tropical forests with hot and humid climates, and is made up of climbing plants that can reach lengths of more than 35 meters. They have large, mostly sweet-smelling flowers in colors ranging from white, green, greenish-yellow to cream. The flowers live only a few hours.
The fruit is a 10-to-20 centimeter pod that ripens gradually, giving off a strong aroma. Each pod contains a large number of tiny seeds.
The species Vanilla planifoliatlilxochitl (i.e., “black flower”) in Nahuatl—is native to Mexico and was domesticated there, endemic to the Papantla area (Central Gulf Region).
Vanilla has been used since pre-Hispanic times as an aromatic or perfume for making cocoa-based beverages, and privileged women once used it to perfume the mamey-seed oil they employed as a pomade.
Starting in the Sixteenth century, the Spanish exported vanilla to Europe, and from there, to the rest of the world, a turn of events that that revolutionized baking, confectionery and other related culinary activities.
Previously, the vanilla plant was naturally pollinated by the Melipona bee and by a variety of hummingbirds. Today, due to regional ecological changes, plants are pollinated by hand. This activity is carried out, flower by flower, in the early hours of the morning on dry, sunny days. Women and young people actively participate. Bud pruning and guiding also require careful handling to avoid mistreating vanilla plants’ shoots and delicate roots.
When vanilla pods ripen, the best specimens are chosen to undergo the next processing step, called beneficio (benefit), which must be carried out under special weather conditions and using specialized labor. The pods are dried in the sun for half a day, and during the evening they are stored in wooden boxes lined with petates (palm mats) to keep them warm. This operation is replicated over a period of eight to ten weeks, depending on the weather. Once the point of “benefit” is reached, the pods are classified by size and shape before being packaged.
Artificial pollination arose the outside of Mexico in the nineteenth century and because of this Madagascar become the world’s largest producer of vanilla, designed to meet huge global demand.
In Mexico, both in places of origin and in other parts of the country where it is produced, authorities are working with rural farming associations and universities to recover both vanilla crops and the quality that once brought fame to Mexico, at the same time these represented an important source of national income. Such efforts are being carried out in the Central Gulf (Papantla) and Southern Highlands (near La Chinantla in Oaxaca; organic product, Slow Food Bastion).
Mexicans use vanilla in numerous recipes involving baked goods, pastries, confections, ice cream, sauces, preserves, and chocolates, as well as cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages. Vanilla is used both artisanally and industrially, including applications in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.


Plátanos al tequila
Torta de elote
Mamey dulce de platón