Mexican Orchid: how is it grown at its historic home

© RIA Novosti / Dmitry Znamenskiy tree plantations under the Mexican TuxpanMexican Orchid: how is it grown at its historic home© RIA Novosti / Dmitry Znamenskiy

Tropical forest near the town of Tuxpan in Veracruz state on the Gulf coast. The thermometer is 30 degrees heat and 90 percent humidity. Almost perfect conditions for growing one of the most expensive spices in the world — vanilla.

«In order to grow vanilla, you need three things: heat, moisture and love,» laughs Director of the Mexican vanilla plantation David Cabrera. In natural conditions still have the tree: in fact, vanilla is a vine of the Orchid family, and so-called trees-guardians provide it with the necessary shade and the greenhouse effect. «In Veracruz we often use for these purposes, citrus or trees called pichoco or acahual, but the lychee or mango, for example, are not suitable,» explains Cabrera.

However, you can do without trees-satellites. Plantation grown trial «patches» vanilla using the method of hydroponics. Vanilla is located in the rods is not vertical in nature and horizontal so easier to harvest. The new method should allow not only to simplify the process of growing vanilla, but also increase the productivity of plantations.

«The world market kilogram of vanilla is now about $ 600, and buyers are willing to pay. The problem of Mexican vanilla companies that produce it there is too little,» says Cabrera.

The delicacy of the Aztecs

But Mexico is the birthplace of vanilla, and used here since ancient times. Before the arrival of the Spaniards the totonacs, Aztecs and Mayans added vanilla to drink from the chocolate (which was available only to the nobility), used it as a means of payment, including taxes. Called her xahanat — «black flower».

Say that the last Aztec Emperor Montezuma treated Cortes hot chocolate with vanilla, served in Golden goblets. It is unknown what impressed the Spaniards more, but it is the people of Cortez, introduced to Europe from the spice, which then was worth a lot of money. From Spain, vanilla came to France, England, and then in the whole of Europe, including in Russia.

For nearly three hundred years, the only country that exports vanilla was Mexico. All attempts to grow it elsewhere have failed, as only in Mexico were found the endemic bees and hummingbirds, which pollinate this plant. It is believed that only in the mid-nineteenth century method of pollinating vanilla manually almost accidentally opened the twelve-year-old slave boy living on reunion island.

Since then, the time Mexico lost a leading position in terms of growing vanilla is now the biggest supplier in the world is Madagascar, and the largest consumer — the United States.

Put vanilla usually in the spring. She grows very quickly and can add up to 1 meter per month, and in the third year of life, March-may, the plant begins to bloom. Bloom these large yellowish flowers with a sweet smell one day, so it is very important to pollinate them. Despite the presence of bees and hummingbirds, on the Mexican plantation of vanilla in our days also use the pollination by hand, and it is quite a complex process.

«The workers who pollinate the vanilla, must prepare for this: not to engage in sexual relations before beginning work, wear white festive clothes, to tune to a solemn mood. Pollination of vanilla is a special event,» said Cabrera.

Sometimes this process is called «vanilla marriage». Vanilla is a plant hermaphrodite, and, to pollinate it, the workers need a special wand to remove the membrane between «female» and «male» part of the flower.

The flowers bloom early in the morning and in the evening already wither, and, to avoid overheating and dehydration, you need to have time and pollinate the plant in the period from 6 am to 11 am. A day experienced worker time to handle 1000-1500 flowers. Usually involved in pollination of a woman.

Over the next seven to nine months grows the vanilla pod with small black seeds — the main attraction of this plant. Its length is of 15-30 centimeters in length and weighs about 20 grams. When the pod has become quite firm, but still green, it is harvested — also manually.

And then the real magic begins. The green pod of vanilla does not have its own special smell and gives flavor to foods. Therefore, according to the Director of the plantation, now begins the main part of the work is properly dry vanilla. As said Cabrera, first it is dried at a temperature of 60 degrees for two to three days, then gradually remove the remaining in the plant liquid for three months at 40 degrees. The next few months vanilla keep in a dark room, constantly checking the moisture level which must be below 27%. Vanilla, like a good wine, you need to steep before it starts to generously share their aroma and taste.

Natural vs synthetic

Mexican Orchid: how is it grown at its historic home© Illustration RIA Novosti . Alina Polarisavenue revealed the secrets of farming, the first civilizations of the Earth»Our vanilla buy chef the most famous in Mexico, restaurants, manufacturers of expensive chocolate, hotels and we sell it to stores in the form of dried pods and essence,» notes Cabrera. The company operates not only in Mexico but also supplies products to USA, Europe, and even Asia. For example, one Japanese perfumer here buys only one kilogram of vanilla — but every year. Yes it is a little, but enough for him to produce their spirits, says the Agency.

A few years ago the company participated in the specialized exhibition in Russia, hoping to reach the Russian market.

«We would like to sell our vanilla and you have in Russia, but so far have failed. It’s too hard. Therefore, we are looking at closer markets,» explained Cabrera.

The demand for vanilla in the world is constantly increasing, and with it, put all new records and the prices of this spice is due to tropical cyclone in Madagascar and the growth of demand from the global giants of the food industry, including Nestle and Hershey. Meanwhile, according to Mexican experts, about 99% of vanilla flavours used in the world is synthetic. So, they differ markedly from the natural scientist no one country has not yet managed to achieve the full identity of the fragrance.

Mexican Orchid: how is it grown at its historic home© RIA Novosti / Evgeny to Betemporary in fotobanka not bombs: how vegans are struggling with capitalismand fact, Mexican officials are sounding the alarm: too many factors have an impact on breeding «the Mexican Orchid». This and climate change (increasing temperatures does not allow the fruits to develop), heavy rains that destroy crops, lack of government support, reluctance of young people preferring to go to big cities to engage in such traditional activities. Where the totonacs from time immemorial cultivated vanilla, now prefer a more «gold»: with all the focus on oil production and agriculture have faded into the background. Appeared much cheaper synthetic vanillin — surprisingly, in Mexican supermarkets it is found almost more often than natural, and much cheaper, though, and has very little similarity with the real extract of vanilla.

However, in recent years in Mexico as in the rest of the world, more and more people prefer to buy natural products, organic stores are never empty, despite the price. This means that Mexican vanilla has all chances to take its rightful place in the world of cooking, perfumes and cosmetics.


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