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It takes three years of careful cultivation for a vanilla vine to flower. The vine must be stressed to trigger the production of flowers. These occur one at a time, and each flower has to be pollinated by hand. It's normal to see buds, flowers and pollinated flowers on the same plant. The green vanilla beans develop quickly but must be left on the vine for 6 months to reach maturity. Farmers know their vanilla is ready for harvest when the tips of the beans turn yellow.
After picking and sorting, the green beans go through a lengthy, controlled curing process.
Vanilla flower, developing buds, green beans on the same plant
A fully pollinated group of flowers or infloresences
"VANILLIN ....the intensity of flavour in a vanilla pod is defined by its vanillin content (1.8% minimum for gourmet). Vanillin alone will not provide a true bourbon flavour. Another 250 naturally occuring aromatics must also be present. Only if curing is carried out correctly will the perfect bourbon flavour be produced."
The vanilla plant is an orchid. It only grows in tropical conditions, 15 degrees either side of the Equator. Even here the conditions must be exactly right. Vanilla vines must have shade but they need sun too. They need water but not too much. To grow a new vine you need a cutting from another plant. This in one of the many reasons why vanillais rarely grown in the UK