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Vanilla belongs to the Vanilla planifolia genus of climbing Orchid family. It is obtained primarily from the fully grown but unripe beans, subjected to fermentation-curing process to produce the characteristic fragrance and flavour. Apart from Vanilla planifolia, two other vanilla species Vanilla tahitensis, from Tahiti, Vanilla pompona from some South Pacific Islands, also yield vanillin, but of inferior quality.

Vanilla beans have a delicate aroma, yet rich and mellow with pleasant aftertaste. Their unique flavour is because of Vanillin (C8 H8 O3). This is found in small amounts in the fully mature and processed vanilla bean, along with several secondary aromatic compounds like volatile oils, fixed oils, resins, organic acids, tannin, sugar, gum, wax, cellulose and water. The full flavour produced by vanillin is enhanced by the secondary aromatic compounds, a complex of aromatic aldehydes, alcohols and esters, which vary with different species of vanilla and within the same species.

Four major types of vanilla beans are distinguished in the world market.

  • Bourbon Vanilla (produced in Madagascar, Comoro and Reunion)
  • Java Vanilla (produced in the island of Java in Indonesia)
  • Bourbon-like vanilla (mainly produced on the island of Bali in Indonesia)
  • Mexican vanilla

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