Did you know…

that vanilla is a spice?

You probably wouldn’t think so, but it is known as the Queen of Spices in a market where it reigns as the second-most expensive spice that is being traded globally.

But the vanilla plat is a creeper that is closely related to orchids and was first cultivated by the Mesoamericans of the Pre-Colombian era. The Aztecs called vanilla, tilixochitl, and through colonization, it got its current name; vanilla which is taken from the Spanish word vaina that translates to “little pod.”

There are 3 species of vanilla in the world today; v.pompona, V.tahitensis, and v.planifolia. The former is grown in Central and South America, the West Indies, and the South Pacific while the latter is grown in regions of Madagascar. The plant began to thrive after it was discovered that it could be hand-pollinated in 1841, by a slave named Edmond Albius in French-occupied Reunion when he was just 12 years old.

  • 1) Ideal Conditions for Vanilla Growing
    • Elevation – 1000m above sea level
    • Temperature – 18-30 degrees Celsius
    • Rainfall – Minimum 09 months a year
    • Climatic Zone – Wet and Intermediate Zones
    • Shade – 70% – 80% at the beginning
  • 2) Vanilla Facts
    • Takes around 2 – 2.5 years before the plant produces the first flower
    • Flowers come out from March to May
    • Around 20 flowers in a cluster (Around 3 – 4 flowers bloom in a day)
    • Flowers should be hand-pollinated in the morning (07 am – 11 am)
    • Minimum of 08 months before plucking pods
    • Harvesting of beans falls from mid-October to November every year
    • Annual world market demand – 28,000 tonnes
    • Annual world market supply – 3,500 – 4,000 tonnes
    • Sri Lankan contribution to the world market – 0.05%
    • Grown in Kandy, Gampola, Ratnapura, Matale and Kurunegala areas
    • Market prices for Sri Lankan Vanilla
    • Raw Vanilla – 6,000LKR – 8,000LKR
    • Processed Vanilla – 75,000LKR – 110,000LKR
  • 3) Quality Specifications of Vanilla
    • 17cm – 25cm in length
    • Dark brown/black colour texture
    • Shiny and oily surface
    • Lack of extraneous matter/insects
    • Could wrap around the finger without breaking the pod
    • Moisture level – 25% – 30%
  • 4) Processing Vanilla
    • Takes around 4 – 5 months to season the green beans into processed vanilla
    • Around 5kg of raw vanilla is required to make 1kg of processed vanilla
    • Green beans are dried under the morning sun for around 2 hours each day till it turns dark brown
    • Should be stored in fermentation boxes for at least 2 months in order to develop a fragrance.