Vanilla, a simple ingredient we use frequently in our baking (It helps make my rhubarb coffeecake extra special!) is unfortunately not native to North America. Instead it is native to Mesoamerica which includes parts of Mexico and Guatemala and can grow only in the tropics and subtropics or 10 to 20 degrees north and south of the Equator.
Vanilla is extracted from the fruit that is produced by the vanilla bean orchid, which is a vine-like plant that grows up trees and is pollinated by hummingbirds and bees native to area. Unfortunately the blossoms are only open for a short period of time, so much of the pollination occurs by hand these days in order to meet the commercial demand for this lovely flavor. [Read more…]