The history of vanilla dates back to early sixteenth century. It.was Bernal Diaz,
the Spanish conqueror of Mexico, who is believed to be the first European to recognize
the flavour and immense value of vanilla, when the Aztec ruler, Montezuma offered
him the vanilla flavoured cocoa beverage. Vanilla flavour was first introduced to
France and England during the early part of the seventeenth century. The cultivation
of vanilla started in Mauritius in 1827 and in Madagascar in the year 1848. Even
though vanilla originated in Mexico, now the major producing countries are Madagascar
and Indonesia. Vanilla is the second most expensive spice traded in the world market.
Vanillin is mainly responsible for the fragrance, flavour and aroma of vanilla essence.
It is used in the preparation of ice creams, chocolates, cakes, pastries, puddings,
soft drinks, pharmaceuticals, liquors, perfumery and in nutraceuticals. At present,
synthetic products such as ethyl vanillin and synthetic vanillin are used for the
above purpose. But such synthetic products are being rejected by discerning customers
world over, and there is an increasing demand for natural vanillin.
USA, England, Germany and Canada are the major importers of vanilla beans, of which
the share of USA alone is about 35 percent of the total. Current production is not
sufficient to meet the demand [2003-04] and there has been dramatic increase in
international vanilla prices.
Spices Board sees considerable export potential in vanilla and has taken the initiative
to popularize vanilla cultivation in India. It has a programme for subsidized supply
of planting material to small growers. Spices Board provides technical inputs to
Vanilla belongs to the Orchidaceae family of Plant Kingdom. About 110 species of
Vanilla are reported, of which, three are commercially cultivated. They are Vanilla
planifolia Andrews,Vanilla pompona Schiede ( West Indian
Vanilla) and Vanilla tahitensis J.W.Moore ( Tahitian Vanilla).
Vanilla planifolia Andrews is the most popular cultivated variety and same
is the case in India also. It is a herbaceous perennial vine, climbing up trees
or other supports.