Since vanilla bean pods are blanched at a high temperature after harvest in order to stop the ripening process, commercially available pods are not raw. Furthermore, vanilla bean pods sold in stores are usually “fermented” vanilla since the precursors to vanillin are converted into the aromatic vanillin through the drying and fermentation processes.
Vanilla can be purchased either as vanilla bean pods, ground vanilla, vanilla extract, or vanilla sugar. Vanilla flavoring is considered the world’s most popular flavor and is used in a wide variety of foods and beverages. For example, it is a favorite in ice cream, chocolate, and baked goods as well as coffee and sweet drinks.
The food industry substitutes mehyl and ethyl vanillin for real vanilla as these artificial versions are far less expensive.1
Natural vanilla is considered a superfood as it has many antioxident properties and is high on the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) Scale. It is also believed to have antimicrobial and analgesic effects. In addition, vanilla extract contains small amounts of B vitamins and small traces of minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese, iron and zinc.
When propagating vanilla orchids from cuttings or harvesting ripe vanilla beans, care must be taken to avoid contact with the sap from the plant's stems. The sap of most species of Vanilla orchid which exudes from cut stems or where beans are harvested can cause moderate to severe dermatitis if it comes in contact with bare skin. Washing the affected area with warm soapy water will effectively remove the sap in cases of accidental contact with the skin. The sap of vanilla orchids contains Calcium oxalate crystals, which appear to be the main causative agent of contact dermatitis in vanilla plantation workers.1
Wikipedia: Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, primarily from the Mexican species, flat-leaved vanilla (V. planifolia). The word vanilla, derived from vainilla, the diminutive of the Spanish word vaina (vaina itself meaning sheath or pod), is translated simply as "little pod". Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid, called tlilxochitl by the Aztecs. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s.
Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron, because growing the vanilla seed pods is labor-intensive. Despite the expense, vanilla is highly valued for its flavor. As a result, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture, and aromatherapy.1
Three major species of vanilla currently are grown globally, all of which derive from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern-day Mexico. They are V. planifolia (syn. V. fragrans), grown on Madagascar, Réunion, and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean; V. tahitensis, grown in the South Pacific; and V. pompona, found in the West Indies, and Central and South America. The majority of the world's vanilla is the V. planifolia species, more commonly known as Bourbon vanilla (after the former name of Réunion, Île Bourbon) or Madagascar vanilla, which is produced in Madagascar and neighboring islands in the southwestern Indian Ocean, and in Indonesia.1