Steve De Long

Flavor Aficionado

Vanilla Beans: The Top 7 Varieties

Vanilla is the most labor intensive spice in the world!

Madagascar, Reunion, The Comoros, & Mauritius. 80% of the worlds vanilla is produced here.

Bourbon Vanilla Beans

Species: Vanilla Planifolia

Source: Madagascar, Comoros, Reunion (Ile Bourbon) - Indian Ocean

Bourbon Vanilla, Madagascar Vanilla, or Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla are the common names used to describe vanilla beans grown on the islands of Madagascar, the Comoros, and Reunion - (formerly known as Ile Bourbon and the namesake of Bourbon Vanilla). This is Vanilla Planifolia or V. Planifolia which originated in tropical central america and was introduced to these islands in the India Ocean by the French in the 1800's. Known for it's classic vanilla flavor and the source of most of the world supply.

Island of Tahiti. Home of Vanilla Tahitensis.

Tahitian Vanilla Beans

Species: Vanilla Tahitensis

Source: Tahiti, French Polynesia

Grown primarily on the island of Tahiti in the Windward Group of the Society Islands in French Polynesia genetic analysis shows that Tahitian Vanilla is likely a cross between V. Planifolia and V. Orodata. It has a uniquely floral character sometimes with hints of licorice. Tahitensis Vanilla is also grown on Papua New Guinea. True Tahiti Vanilla carries a premium and has deeper chocolate notes.

Bourbon Style Vanilla Beans from Java, Indonesia.

Indonesian Vanilla Beans

Species: Vanilla Planifolia

Source: Java Indonesia, Indian Ocean to the West, Pacific Ocean to the East

Indonesia Vanilla Beans, typically grown on the Island of Java, have in the past been known for being cured over wood fires, which quickens the drying process but imparts a smoky note to the flavor. Recently, some Indonesia growers have adopted Madagascar style curing techniques resulting in Vanilla beans of very high quality.

Vanilla Beans from Veracruz, Mexico. Where it all began.

Mexican Vanilla Beans

Species: Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Pompona

Source: Papantla, Mexico - Home of Vanilla

In the state of Veracruz in Mexico lies the small town of Papantla, the heart of Vanilla. While the true source locality may lie farther south in mesoamerica this is the town that made Mexican Vanilla famous from the time of the Conquistador - Hernan Cortez . The beans here are grown by Tonoca Indians and in times past were used to flavor Xocolatl - the Aztec Chocolate drink that was the precursor to our Hot Chocolate.

Vava'u, Tonga. The main source of Tongan Vanilla.

Tongan Vanilla Beans

Species: Vanilla Planifolia

Source: The Kingdom of Tonga, South Pacific

Production of Tongan Vanilla may be on the rise again after a decline similar to that of Mexico. With fertile volcanic soil and a warm tropical climate the Island of Vava'u in the Kingdom of Tonga produces superior beans renowned for their high vanillin content.

In East Central Africa, Uganda is producing top quality Vanilla Beans.

Ugandan Vanilla Beans

Species: Vanilla Planifolia

Source: Uganda, Central Africa

Uganda is now producing some of the finest vanilla beans in the world. With an ideal vanilla climate, rich loamy soil, Ugandan beans have a very high vanillin content and as much as 40% of the crop are premium A grade beans.

Vanilla Beans are grown in several regions in India, including Karnataka.

Indian Vanilla Beans

Species: Vanilla Planifolia

Source: Indian - Karnakata, Kerala, the Nicobar Islands and other States

Vanilla was introduced to India before even Madagascar and the flavor profile of Indian Beans is very similar to their Bourbon cousins across the Indian Ocean. Vanilla Planifolia, sometimes called Fragrans, is cultivated in southern India in the states of Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.