Tuesday, October 17, 2006

my orchid

as i was looking at the static state of an orchid i had purchased about 4 years ago and wondering what i have been doing wrong that it won't rebloom, i noticed that a new leaf was emerging and that one of its aerial roots was growing. wow, it was alive after all. alas, this happened last time and still no flower.

so what does an orchid have to do with anything with food? well it does. the orchid of a particular species produces one of the world's most wanted and used products in the culinary realm — the fruit of the vanilla orchid.

can you believe that as a country, according to nielsen-massey vanilla producers, americans alone consume 1,200 TONS of this per year?! remember one ton is equivalent to approximately 2000 pounds which means = 2,400,000 pounds! two and a half million pounds, people. that's alot of vanilla for one country. not to mention how much vanilla costs. interestingly enough, it is the coca cola company who buys a significant amount to use in its product. the rest is mostly used in the production of vanilla extractions of all sorts and the sale of the bean itself for culinary use. a certain amount of vanilla is also bought and used in the perfume industry.

as with many orchids, the vanilla species is a vine which, in its natural environment, grows up the sides of trees.

the vine eventually produces a beautiful flower which, after pollination, grows into the unripe fruit we know of as the vanilla bean pod [to see a beautiful cross section of the flower itself see the wikipedia article about vanilla].

please refer to the first photo for the unripe pod. the pods are carefully removed and dried. they are then sold on the market. producing vanilla is an extremely labour-intensive agricultural endeavor so it stands to reason why the vanilla pod and its extracted products are so costly.

history tells of the totonac indians of precolumbian mexico in the state of veracruz [northern mexico] discovering and using this exotic fruit of the vine. it is later said that cortez brings back the vanilla bean to spain after acquisition of it [amongst the many other things they took].

there are four main growing areas for vanilla:

[bourbon islands: madagascar, seychelle, comoro & reunion]

and three main types of vanilla, each with their own flavour profile:

*[tahitian] french.

this is a very short article from UCLA on how the vanilla is harvested.

the nielsen massey site has interesting information about vanilla and the various products it sells as well as an nice section on recipes using this much loved essence. one curious thing it says is that using a teaspoon of vanilla will cut the acidity of a tomato sauce. wonder how true that is and if it offsets the taste of the sauce?

one thing which i have always detested is artificial vanilla. while cheaper to buy, it is either the by-product of wood [produced in the paper industry] or a coal & tar derivative. this site offers very interesting vanilla facts and flavour profiles. while i understand some people cannot consume vanilla as preserved in alcohol, i cannot bring myself to use the artificial variety.

an interesting bean likened to vanilla, and sometimes used as a substitute, is the tonka bean. to see what it looks like look here or to read more, this and this at the bottom of the page provides you with the information. coumarin is derived from this bean, a powerful anti-coagulent. yikes, no thank you. i'll stick to the real deal.

pictures: source — public domain wikipedia


Alla Staroseletskaya said...

It's one of the best cooking article I have read so far. Your blog became a magnet. It's not just a recipes, it's full entertainment. I bet, people love to read your posting and finding.

burekaboy — said...

your fine compliments make me blush, alla. much appreciated. you are doing a nice job yourself showcasing the foods of the russian jewish community. ;p ochen spasibo.

chanit said...

Yes, I love to read him too !
אפשר להריח עד לפה..יופי