Vanilla Flower and Beans

All About Vanilla

Vanilla is one of those scents that is so good you can “taste” it. Not only does it provide excellent flavor to cakes, cookies and loads of other deserts, it’s strong, distinct, yet pleasant scent is added to all sorts of things from candles to perfumes. It is even rumored to be part of the proprietary blend that makes the scent of baby powder.

Who doesn’t like the smell of baby powder?

Not too long ago, I decided to pick up some organic vanilla beans from my local health food store for making infused vanilla oil. I hunted all over the store with no luck, finally one of the clerks found a small bottle of beans for me. To my surprise the bottle contained two beans, and cost nearly $6.00, that’s $3.00 per bean!!!

Dang, why the hek is vanilla so expensive?? So, me being me, I thought I can just grow my own, right?

Well, not quite…Vanilla is actually an orchid. Orchids are often prized for their fragrant colorful blooms. Some orchids are difficult to grow and can be very expensive to buy. Now, the price tag was beginning to come into focus…however…vanilla is such a popular scent and culinary flavor, it can’t be that difficult, after all to grown on a commercial level, around the world.

Actually you can buy and grow your own vanilla orchid, a 3″ post costs about $5.99 on Amazon, but your not going to be producing your own beans anytime soon, and quite possibly ever.

The vanilla orchid is a vine, that can grow to more then 35 meters!

Not only that it is native to warm, moist tropical climates were it doesn’t get colder then 60° at night and stays around 95° throughout the day, year round.  The vanilla orchid thrives in humidity upwards of 80%.  These conditions can of course be replicated in a green house and you can keep your vanilla orchid around a manageable 20′!! That’s still pretty large and out of the question when you have limited space in which to grow plants.

Truth be told you can keep a vanilla orchid smaller, and train it to stay on a trellis.  It is tolerant of being trimmed, which is pretty handy if you want it as a house plant.  It prefers filtered sun and you can substitute frequent misting for the lack of 80% humidity in your home.  The bathroom is an excellent location, for a vanilla orchid, as it is often the most moist, warm room in someone’s home.  Especially if your bathroom as a window that provides a good source of filtered sunlight.

So, then why couldn’t I just spend the $5.99 (which was less then I paid for the 2 beans at the health food store) and have my very own vanilla plant, with all the bean I could want…

Because the vanilla orchid doesn’t actually flower until it is 3-5 yrs old and reaches a height of about 30′!!

So the vanilla orchid living in your bathroom is probably not going to reach a tall/long enough height to actually flower, but it is still an attractive fragrant plant that is nice to have around.

Let’s just say that you actually have the space (a green house or an atrium) to allow your vanilla orchid to grow large enough to flower and you are able too replicate it’s native environment.  You’ve waited roughly 3-5 yrs for your plant to flower so when the bog day arrives and now…

Your plant actually flowers…you’d better take the day off work…that is if you actually want beans!

The vanilla orchid flowers only once per year and the flowers only stay open for one day.  Yes, that is correct one day!

Now the price of vanilla beans is coming into a pretty clear focus, isn’t it?  Well it’s about to get crystal clear…the vanilla orchids bloom MUST be hand pollinated! Evidently the vanilla orchid is pollinated in nature by the Melipona bee that only lives in it’s native Mexico, and even there, it is mostly hand pollinated as there isn’t enough Melipona bees to get it done in the limited time frame.

Now, I actually wonder why Vanilla beans don’t cost more!