vanilla pods.jpg

I had been dying to see these vanilla beans when I went to Kerala for my short vacation. My parents after their retirement had turned to growing vanilla plants among others and everytime they would mention vanilla I couldnt wait to see these beauties. When I was in India, vanilla was not popular as a cash crop. But now it is very common in Kerala. I am not sure if it common in other states. Rubber plantations which are very common in Kerala are soon being replaced by vanilla plantations. The warm and humid climatic conditions have really adopted the plant to its soil.
My first introduction to vanilla was the vanilla essence which we used to add religiously to every cake we made as kids. I remember when I enthusiastically drank a teaspoon of vanilla extract thinking it would taste as great as it smelled. Boy, was I wrong. But that didn’t end my love affair with vanilla.
vanill alea.jpg

A closer view of the leaves

I was quite surprised when I stepped outside to see the sorroundings after I got home. It was green all around and there were small patches of ginger,numerous okra plants, long beans called ‘achinga’ in Malayalam and so many things to see and enjoy. It was just wonderful to just walk among all the veggies and to see mom pick them up fresh and cook them for me. They had changed the whole place to a green paradise. They have gone at it with all their heart and they even have a pit where they make their own compost using earthworms. I didn’t go near the pit although now I wish I had observed more.
The vanilla plants are climbers on a supporting tree. The leaves are so beautiful to look at with the bright green and waxy texture. The beans look like french beans but more slender and rounder. The method to process the vanilla bean is long. First of all, the flowers have to pollinated by hand .The beans once they areripe are plucked, added to boiling water. The fragrance of the vanilla beans is just so great and it permeates the whole kitchen. Then they are taken out allowed to dry in the sun for few hours every day. And finally when the green beans turn blackishbrown they are ready and I believe it takes almost 15 to 20 days.

The orchid on its supporting framework

I also heard stories about vanilla plants and beans being stolen from peoples land during the times when vanilla was fetching big prices.

These are the vanilla beans stored carefully. I used a few of them already in some of my recipes. I feel really rich having these in my store:). I used them in the pistachio cake .

This is my submission for weekend herb blogging at Kalyns Kichen

24 responses »

  1. Hi Gini…

    Iam a fan of Vanilla too!! lov them in milkshakes!! the leaves look like rubber!! i have seen chefs using the beans in food network tv.they dont use it as such but i have seen them remove the essence from the bean and add it to boiling milk…

    Yes..I halve the bean and scrape the seeds out. I then add it to the cake batter. I have to find other uses for this vanilla.

  2. What a wonderful post for Weekend Herb Blogging. I realized that I know hardly anything about vanilla, so thanks for enlightening me.

    You are welcome Kalyn.. 

  3. Hi, nice post. There was a time when everyone started cultivating vanilla, and the proces were soaring. But then the proce dropped drastically a few years back. Did your parents mention aything about how it’s doing nowadays?

    * Got here through Kerala Blogroll.

    True Geo..I think the prices are falling these days. They grow it as a hobby and so I dont think were overly concerned about the prices. Cultivating anything is a loss deal these days in Kerala,so I am not surprised.

  4. Gini:

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting on my blog. WOW, I am so glad I know more about vanilla beans than what Alton Brown had said one time on food network :).

    That is a wonderful post.


    I like Alton Brown.. atleast he explains stuff in simple terms. I am sort of tired of food network these days..wish they had more veriety.

  5. gini, what wonderful pictures. I love vanilla too! How lucky for you that your parents grow it and you have access to good, pure vanilla.

    lovely post.

    Thanks SH..Yes totally homegrown, organic and packed with love. Does it get any better than that? 

  6. Gini, thnks for the post. And what a nice coincidence..I was trying to learn about vanilla ( because I saw a vanilla jam recipe from Ottoman cuisine)

    Betul..You are welcome. Vanilla jam sounds delicious.

  7. Gini, your pictures are fantastic! And the background you provide is straight from the fields which makes it even more priceless!

    Manisha..I am glad u liked it. That is one thing I like about yr posts, your narration is so great and engrossing.

  8. Gini, wow! Those pics are great! I think I’ll be waiting a long time before my little plant gets as big as your parents’ plant. And I totally did the same thing as a kid and learned quickly that vanilla extract by itself doesn’t taste as heavenly as it smells.

  9. What beautiful photos of the vanilla plants! And no wonder vanilla is so costly if it takes that long to process!

    I did the same thing with vanilla extract – not a whole bottle but I remember licking the teaspoon after my mother had used it to measure extract for a cake. And I did it on more than one occasion! I just couldn’t believe that something that smelled so fabulous could taste so unpleasant on its own! 😀


    (thanks to Kalyn’s weekend herb blogging fo leadng me here!)

  10. Hi Gini – I’ve never seen vanilla plants before, they look amazing. Thank you so much for the great post, I’ve learnt a lot of things. Your site is really beautiful, keep up the good work!
    Thanks Keiko..Your site is a truly inspiring place to be.

  11. Wonderful photos & information. Wish I could grow it.

    In Arizona..not sure! I think it needs more of a tropical climate, I think. But were just wishing! Loved your bokchoy pics.

  12. Hi Gini… Thank you for sharing the vanilla info. Does your parents sell them? If yes, I would like to purchase some. Is there any shop in Kerala that I can buy vanilla beans online?

    Great site…


  13. Hii Gini,

    It sounds good that you grow vanilla. Me too own a small farm. It would be great if you could get me some information on how you sell your vanilla beans.

    With Regards
    Sam Mathew

  14. Hi Gini!

    Alton Brown says that vanilla beans have no flavor ’til they are dried. Has that been your experience?

    Thanks, Joe

  15. extremely informative blog and so many things about vanilla beans..PLEASE HELP ME..M DESPERATE..we are going to kerala this december..please guide me where do i buy in kochi or munnar..please help

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