There are three main species of vanilla that are produced commercially. These include vanilla planifolia, vanilla tahitiensis, and vanilla pompona. Each species has unique characteristics.
The planifolia species is grown throughout much of the world, from Hawaii to Mexico to Madagascar and is by far the most heavily produced. This species is typically more round and plump compared to the other species. However, strong variations do exist.
The tahitiensis species, commonly referred to as “Tahitian Vanilla”, typically has a more floral aroma and flavor. Tahitian vanilla beans also contain less vanillin content (the active ingredient responsible for flavor) and are often used in perfumes. Tahitian vanilla beans also tend to be wide and flat.
The pompona species is native to Mexico and northern South America. It is one of the sources for vanilla flavoring, due to its high vanillin content. Known for its larger than average size, the uncured pods look like miniature, four-inch-long bananas.
Like fine wine, the location which the vanilla is grown plays a large role in the aroma and flavor profiles of a vanilla bean. This is due to each country having a unique method of curing and drying vanilla beans. So many unique curing processes results an equally large difference in flavors produced by the vanilla bean.
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