Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family—the largest family of flowering plants in the world. It specifically comes from the dried and cured fruits (pods) of the orchid Vanilla planifolia—a vigorous, vining orchid that can reach up to 300 feet in its native tropical American environment. This flowers blooms for 24 hours and must be pollinated or it dies. ISO 5565-1:1999—Vanilla [Vanilla Fragrans (Salisbury) Ames] — Part 1: Specification and ISO 5565-2:1999—Vanilla [Vanilla Fragrans (Salisbury) Ames] — Part 2: Test Methods detail specifications and test methods for vanilla belonging to the species Vanilla fragrans (Salisbury) Ames, syn. Vanilla planifolia Andrews.
Harvesting Vanilla Beans
From the vanilla vines of orchid flowers, vanilla is extracted from the cured pods (beans). Vanilla beans are grown in tropical regions around the world, where year-round warm temperatures and sufficient rainfall create soil conditions and climate that are suitable for proper growth. Vanilla beans grow within the “Bean Belt“— a warm climate zone that is 25 degrees north and south of the equator. Coffee beans, cocoa beans, and various other beans all grow within this region.
Vanilla beans, however, are the most sensitive since they are derived from the delicate flower: Vanilla Planifolia (the vanilla bean orchid), which is an epiphyte that lives on a host tree. This is a vine that grows rapidly up and around an existing tree, but it does not draw on the tree’s nutrients. It produces greenish-yellow flowers that must be hand-pollinated outside of its native habitat to ensure good fruit set. The pods grow to about 6-9 inches long and are harvested when fully grown but not yet ripe, about 8-9 months after flowering. Vanilla flavor is then further developed by curing and fermenting the pods. When the beans are harvested, they are treated with hot water or heat and then placed in the sun every day for weeks to months until have shrunk to 20% of their original size. Vanilla is the most labor-intensive crop in the world.
The ISO 5565 Series for Vanilla
ISO 5565 consists of the following parts, under the general title Vanilla [Vanilla fragrans (Salisbury) Ames]—Part 1: Specification and Part 2: Test Methods. ISO 5565-1:1999 and ISO 5565-2:1999 are applicable to vanilla in pods, bulk, cut, or in the form of powder.
Both parts of ISO 5565 are also not applicable to vanilla extracts.
What Is ISO 5565-1:1999?
ISO 5565-1:1999 specifies requirements for vanilla belonging to the species Vanilla fragrans (Salisbury) Ames, syn. Vanilla planifolia Andrews.
What Is ISO 5565-2:1999?
ISO 5565-2:1999 specifies test methods for the analysis of vanilla belonging to the species Vanilla fragrans (Salisbury) Ames, syn. Vanilla planifolia Andrews. Three test methods for the analysis of vanilla are described in this part of ISO 5565:
- The determination of moisture content in vanilla pods and powder
- The determination of vanillin, vanillic acid, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde and 4-hydroxybenzoic acid by high-performance liquid chromatography
- The determination of vanillin content by an ultraviolet spectrometric method
Origins of Vanilla
It is believed that vanilla has been initially cultivated in Totonacapan by the Totonac people in the tropical areas of Mexico and Latin America. It is unknown how long exactly the Totonac had known about and cultivated vanilla, but in 1427 century, the Aztecs successfully conquered the Totonacs and discovered that black vanilla pod that brought flavoring and medicinal value to their culture. The Aztecs were the first to use both vanilla and cocoa together to help with the flavor of their foods and drinks, often mixing them together. The mixture was much like our “hot chocolate” but they called it “xocolatl.” It is said that Aztec Emperor, Montezuma, was quoted saying xocolatl is a “Divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.”
In 1519, it is believed that Hernando Cortes was served a beverage mixture of cocoa and vanilla by Aztec Emperor Montezuma, most likely the xocolatl. Both flavors were so well received by the Spanish conqueror that he brought the cocoa and vanilla beverage back to Europe as a treasure from the New World, showing it the Spanish Roya court. From there it spread quickly into the European palate, but only as an additive in chocolate products. By the early 18th century, the French were using vanilla to flavor everything from ice cream to pastries. Until the mid-1800s, Europeans imported the cured vanilla beans from Mexico as a luxury spice for the elite class.
Vanilla in Madagascar
With European expansion around the world, cuttings of the vanilla vine were transplanted to other tropical regions to see if it would grow outside of its native region. The vines did grow; however, they did not bear fruit (pods or beans). Belgian botanist, Charles Morren concluded that this was because the Melipone Bee (native to Mexico), could not live anywhere else in the world and this bee was the only source of pollination for the vanilla orchid. Non-Melipona bees (or other insects) cannot pollinate the vanilla orchid due to their shorter “snout.” As a result, the practice of hand-pollination began and enabled vanilla pods to be produced in other tropical regions. Edmond Albius, a 12-year-old slave on the island of Réunion, discovered in 1841 how to hand-pollinate the vanilla orchids.
Needless to say, this discovery changed the game, allowing global cultivation of the plant, with France as the primary driver. The Bourbon Islands, controlled by the French and located near the tip of Madagascar, proved to be the best growing region for the vanilla vines, and this why vanilla produced there carries the name “Bourbon.” Hand-pollination further led to a number of former French colonies becoming the primary producers of vanilla, namely Madagascar and Réunion (today Madagascar and Réunion produce somewhere between 70% and 80% of all vanilla in the world). Over the past 100 years, vanilla has become more plentiful and is grown in numerous other regions around the world —namely Tahiti, Mexico, Indonesia, Madascar, and Tonga—. With every different region that produces the vanilla pod, a unique vanilla flavor, aroma, and color is produced (like how grapes produce different aromas and flavors for wine). Nowadays there are now over 150 different varieties of vanilla orchid plants.
ISO 5565-1:1999—Vanilla [Vanilla Fragrans (Salisbury) Ames] — Part 1: Specification and ISO 5565-2:1999—Vanilla [Vanilla Fragrans (Salisbury) Ames] — Part 2: Test Methods available on the ANSI Webstore.