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FioreVanilla is the most famous fragrance in the world. It derives from a climbing flavouring plant belonging to Orchid family, genus Vanilla, native to Mexico. It grows as a green, flexible vine with long, elongate leaves and greenish flowers. The fruit, a long seed capsule, contains several dark green seeds when unripe, turning to yellow and dark brown when ripe. The ripe fruit is totally flavourless. It gains its precious, unmistakable smell remaining on the plant and undergoing a fermentation process.





Originally cultivated by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican populations, the Spanish conquistador Hernàn Cortés , who was offered a particular drink (vanilla flavouring chocolate) by Montezuma, is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe at the beginning of the XVI century, despite the Aztecs’ attempts to keep the drink ingredients secret.  A Franciscan monk, Bernard de Sahagun, who was in the New World between 1560 and 1575, was the first who wrote about vanilla. In Europe this precious flavouring was first used by the aristocracy to flavor exotic drinks. Later on, in 1602, a chemist suggested using it by itself. That was the first step towards its fame.

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The plant was difficult to exploit because its flowers can only be pollinated by a specific Melipone bee found in Mexico. Growers tried to bring this bee out of that country, to no avail. The only way to produce fruits without the bees is hand pollination which was developed in 1861 by a very young slave working on the plantations. There are 110 cultivars, but only three of them are grown for their commercial value: Planifolia, Pompona and Thaitensis. They are mainly grown in Mexico, Madagascar, Uganda, the Mauritius, the Comoros, the Seychelles and Indonesia.



The processing


Modern processing is not so different from the old one: each individual pod must be picked by hand just as it begins to split on the end. Over matured beans are likely to split causing a reduction in market value. Then they are put into hot water to stop the vegetative growth of the pods and start enzymatic reactions responsible for the aroma.

ScolaturaNext step is sweating: beans are wrapped in woolen cloth to raise the temperature (in high humidity) of the beans under sunlight conditions for up to 10 days. Then pods are stored in wooden boxes under air-tight conditions. These conditions allow enzymes to catalyze the reactions involved in generating the characteristic vanilla colour, flavor and aroma. To prevent rotting and to lock the aroma in the pods, they are dried. When 25-30% of the pods’ weight is moisture, they have completed the curing process and will exhibit their fullest aromatic qualities. This reduction in moisture content is achieved by spreading the beans on a wooden rack in a room for three to four weeks. Bean conditioning is performed by storing the pods for a few months in closed boxes where the fragrance develops. Then processed beans are sorted, graded, bundled and wrapped in paraffin paper and preserved for the development of desired bean qualities, especially flavor and aroma. The cured vanilla beans contain an average of 2.5% vanillin (Bourbon variety).

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You can find vanilla on the market as dark brown sticks covered with small vanilla crystals exhaling the typical strong aroma. Vanilla is universally appreciated even if it has no nutritional value; it has stimulating, antiseptic and aphrodisiac properties.



 The chemistry 


Synthetic vanilla accounts for 90% of vanilla world market, but it cannot reproduce the original flavor. European laws consider it the same as natural one, but products containing it cannot be labeled “natural vanilla flavor”.

Bacca apertaNowadays it is widely employed in the food industry to produce confectionary, drinks, spirits and also in cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries.



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