Vanilla beans (pods) are the dried unripe fruits the orchid Vanilla planifolia. Every flower is pollinated by hand and each blossom produces a single bean that is normally harvested after 8/9 months. The unripe beans are picked when yellowish in colour and are boiled in water for 3 minutes. They are then dried slowly over the next 3 to 4 months in the sun. Each day, they are exposed to sunlight for 2 hours, then covered in blankets and taken in at night to allow the chemical process to take place. The beans shrivel, become flexible, and turn a very dark colour.
We use vanilla pods from South America and the West Indies. Vanilla pods and vanillin extracted from them are used as flavouring in cakes, ice creams and custards. Vanilla absolute, resinoid and vanillin are popular perfume ingredients and are heavily used in aromatherapy.
Vanilla pods are made up of sugars, vanillin, fats and mineral salts. When applied topically, the sugars in vanilla act as a humectant. The humectant action also forms a barrier on skin, which prevents moisture loss. Vanillin is the main source of the characteristic vanilla scent and it has also been shown to have antioxidant properties.
Vanilla absolute is extracted from the beans of the plant. It is a thick brown substance that has a very sweet, vanilla aroma. Vanilla absolute, resinoid and vanillin are popular perfume ingredients and are used in aromatherapy. Vanillin is the main source of the characteristic vanilla scent and it has also been shown to have some antioxidant properties.