Vanilla is one of the oldest and one of the most expensive spices apart from Saffron and Cardamom in the world. The spice is native to Mexico. Vanilla is the name of a group of tropical vines that belong to the orchid family. The word ‘Vanilla’ comes from a Spanish word called vainilla. It is the only spice that contains edible fruit among more than 35,000 orchid species. It refers to the shape of the seedpods of the plant. Except its culinary uses, we don’t hear a lot about its health benefits. That’s probably because it is more important for its flavouring and aromatic uses. Vanilla was cultivated by pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people for flavouring purposes. During that period, the Aztecs used it for flavouring Chocolate. Thereafter, when Europeans came to know about it around 1520, they also started using Vanilla for flavouring chocolates.
The process of growing the orchid is quite interesting. Vanilla is obtained from the fruits or seed pods called vanilla Beans. The andaman vanilla orchid is trained to vine up a tree or pole as it grows so that the long seed pods can be collected by people standing on the ground without need for ladders. After the plant has grown for three years, it flowers for just one day. Hand pollination of the plant should be done during that day itself. The pollination is actually performed by a ‘bee’ native to Mexico. Since the bee is not found elsewhere, hand pollination is considered to be the best available method. Following the hand pollination, the plant does not bloom for another year. Nine months later, the beans are removed from the plant and thereafter it is put through several months of drying and fermenting. Longer beans are more expensive as they contain more vanilla. It is only because of the time and labour required for the growth of the orchid that it is considered to be one of the most expensive spices of the world.
Other products of andaman vanilla include vanilla powder, vanilla paste, vanilla flavouring, and vanilla imitation. Vanilla powder is considered to be a good dietary component as far as increasing the mass of the body is concerned. A combination of natural and synthetic ingredients is what makes the andaman vanilla flavouring. Pure andaman vanilla replaced by additives and synthetic is what vanilla imitation is all about. The fact that Andaman and Nicobar islands have started growing this expensive spice, itself speaks about the favourable climatic conditions that prevail in the islands for the growth of such a rare spice. Andaman vanilla is a step further in the endeavour to improve the agricultural status of the islands.
In modern times, Aromatherapy tests were done on different aromas and the one that most men were aroused by was vanilla. There is some controversy over whether this arousal was gastronomic or sexual. Even so, andaman vanilla does have antioxidant properties. Yet there are less expensive and more effective means of getting antioxidants (fish oil, omega-3).