Out of the 20,000 Orchid varieties in the world, vanilla is the only orchid that is used as a food additive. Scientifically known as Vanilla Planifolia, the spice is native to Mexico and Central America. Vanillin is the main component found in Vanilla which emphasizes its flavour and pleasing fragrance. The commercial value of the vanilla beans is also determined based on its aroma and flavour. Vanilla is available in the forms of beans, powder, paste, extract, and oil.
The second most expensive spice in the world, Vanilla is indigenous to Mexico, where the flowers are naturally pollinated by small Melipona honey bees and two species of hummingbirds native to Mexico.
This strictly unique pollination method of vanilla flower provided Mexico with a 300-year long monopoly over global vanilla trade until manual pollination was first discovered by a 12-year-old slave named Edmond Albius in now Mauritius Islands.
Like with other orchid varieties vanilla seeds do not germinate without mycorrhizal fungi. Therefore, vanilla cultivators in Sri Lanka and around the world grow and reproduce the plant by cutting.
VANILLA CULTIVATION IN SRI LANKA
Vanilla is a comparatively new crop to be established in Sri Lanka. Of the four vanilla cultivars commercially cultivated in the world, Sri Lankan natural vanilla cultivators, like others in the Indian ocean, produce Bourbon vanilla or Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla derived from the Vanilla Planifolia species.
Around 2000 farmers in Kandy, Matale, Nuwara Eliya, Kegalle, Ratnapura, Badulla and Galle are engaged in the cultivation of Vanilla in Sri Lanka.
Vanilla grows well in 1000m above sea level in Sri Lanka, under mild temperature and 2000-2500 mm rainfall and thrives under shade away from direct sunlight. Considered to be a delicate crop which requires a labour intensive process to grow and pollinate, the slow adoption of Vanilla as a cash crop is also due to the 6 to 1 weight loss when producing cured vanilla beans from green beans.
Sri Lankan vanilla farmers on average produce around 1.5 metric tons of hand cured vanilla beans which are consumed locally and exported to Poland, New Zealand, Italy, Singapore, and Argentina. locally grown vanilla contains 1.50% of Vanillin which gives it a gentler flavour and a smokiness compared to other vanilla varieties in the global market.
Sri Lankan vanilla exporters have also introduced products like vanilla-infused virgin coconut oil, vanilla tea, bee honey with natural vanilla and vanilla vinegar to the global market. Other than the value-added vanilla products, the local vanilla suppliers also export natural vanilla extractions, vanilla beans, vanilla pods, vanilla paste and vanilla sugar.
USES OF VANILLA
Natural Vanilla is available in four main preparations, namely; whole pod, powder or grounded pods, vanilla extracts, vanilla sugar, or vanilla oleoresins. It is widely used in food and beverage and personal care industries
FOOD AND BEVERAGE INDUSTRY
One of the most popular food flavourings in the world, natural vanilla extracts, power, and pod are widely used in the food and beverage industry. Bourbon vanilla is used in a wide range of food and beverages across the world from confectionaries, baked goods, pastries to chocolate, cocoa, coffee and tea. Vanilla’s ability to enhance the other flavours and add a sweet fragrance makes it is a versatile addition to any dish or dessert.
PERSONAL CARE & COSMETIC INDUSTRY
Although natural vanilla absolutes and vanilla oleoresins are rarely used in personal care and cosmetic industry to manufacture candles, soaps, and other scented speciality merchandise most of the high street products tend to contain synthetic vanillin due to the very high price of natural vanilla absolute,
BENEFITS OF VANILLA
Helps Weight Loss - Vanilla is known to act as a natural appetite suppressant that improves metabolism. Aromatherapy treatment done with vanilla essence can reduce the craving for a sweet tooth.
Relieves toothache - Vanillin, the organic compound found in natural vanilla acts as as a painkiller and germicide, helping to reduce the pain caused by tooth decay
Relieves Depression and Anxiety - Aromatherapy treatment done with vanilla essence has been found to relieve stress and anxiety to bring temporary relief from claustrophobia, stress and anxiety attacks.