VANILLA, a genus of orchids, of great economic value, on account of their fruits, which furnish the commercial flavoring-extract known by the same name. Several species fur nish vanilla, the most important being V. Mini folia, indigenous to Mexico and adjacent terri tories. It is a robust high-climbing plant, at taching itself to trees by adventitious roots. It bears bright-green, oval, flat leaves, which are fleshy or coriaceous. The flowers are fragrant and greenish-white, with a trumpet shaped lip, crinkled about the edges. When cultivated, as it is very largely, in tropical coun tries, especially in Mexico and Java, the flowers must be fertilized artificially, the finest being chosen, a process carried out by insects in its wild habitat. They then set fleshy fruit, which is carefully picked just before each is ripe. These pods are from six to nine inches long and are filled with an oily pulp containing the minute seeds. They are called vanilla beans from their long, slender legume-like appearance; but are not fragrant. The characteristic aroma is due to the presence of a volatile oil (vanillin) which is developed by slow curing and fermen tation. The pod, as it appears in the markets,
is chocolate-colored, wrinkled, slender and pli able. In the best qualities, or "frosted vanilla," the vanillin extrudes its needle-like crystals, forming a delicate efflorescence on the outside of the beans. Although vanilla is a carmina tive and stimulative drug, it is chiefly used as a flavoring substance, particularly for chocolate and confectionery. The Spaniards found va nilla in use among the Mexican Indians, in con junction with cocoa, and it is said that it was first imported into England about 1510, when other Mexican products found their way over seas.
There are several inferior qualkies of vanilla, such as the Venezuelan and Brazilian varie ties, brought from those countries, the latter being distinguished as vanillon, and supposed to be the product Vanilla pompons. The pods are longer and thicker than those of V. plaxifolia. Guiana vanilla pods (V. guionensis) are coarse and frequently split open.