Vanilla is an orchid of Mexican origin. It is a liana with at least 30 recognised related species. Vanilla from Mexico, (Vanilla Fragrans), and vanilla Bourbon, (Vanilla Fragrans), from the Mascareigne Isles and of Madagascan origin are the most interesting, and are richly perfumed. Vanilla from Tahiti, (Vanilla Tahitensis), vanilla from Java and vanillon from the West Indies are much less sophisticated and are mainly used in perfumery.
Numerous procedures of nurturing, harvesting and drying are needed to produce a vanilla pod. From pollination, which is done by hand, it can take up two years to obtain a product of great quality. 4 kilos of fresh pods are necessary to make 1 kilo of dried pods.
A tip: Only buy vanilla pods, which should be highly fragrant, supple and gleaming. To preserve your pods keep them wrapped in oiled paper away from the light and heat.