Take the 2-minute tour ×
Seasoned Advice is a question and answer site for professional and amateur chefs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Some ice cream around here is marketed as the flavor "Mexican vanilla".

It seems sweeter and has obvious vanilla seeds (or something that looks similar). Is there a type of vanilla pod that is uniquely Mexican? Or does the flavor mean "vanilla in a Mexican style" and refer to some technique?

share|improve this question
    
I'm a little confused what everyone is talking about because vanilla is native to Mexico. Just Google Vanilla origin. The Toltecs were the first to cultivate it. The Spaniards later introduced it to Europe. –  user17628 Apr 2 '13 at 18:36
    
@John We're talking about what's currently produced and sold, not the origins of vanilla. There's vanilla which is produced in Mexico and sold as Mexican vanilla, and it is not necessarily the same thing as what's produced elsewhere. –  Jefromi Apr 2 '13 at 18:55

4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

There are several distinct species of the vanilla orchid used for food flavouring, the most common being vanilla planifolia, vanilla tahitiensis and vanilla pompona (in that order).

Vanilla planifolia is usually marketed as "Bourbon vanilla", most of which is grown in Indonesia and Madagascar. The same species is also grown in Mexico, but they have decided to call it "Mexican vanilla", which is purely a marketing designation. At least the Mexicans claim their vanilla to be of superior quality, but the vanilla extracts sold in Mexico are often stretched with tonka bean extract, which has a similar taste and aroma to vanilla, but contains coumarin, which is banned as a food additive by the US Food & Drug Administration. Other countries have less strict regulations, often only regulating a maximum coumarin content.

share|improve this answer
1  
Plants being the same species doesn't really tell you anything about whether they have the same flavor. (Cauliflower and kale are the same species.) Even being the same cultivar doesn't necessarily mean that the flavor is the same. (To pick a couple examples, onions and wine grapes have very different flavors depending on where they were grown.) –  Jefromi Jun 20 '12 at 1:59
    
@Jefrome: Of course both climate and the soil can have impact on the plants. I am however pretty sure that you can find larger differences between vanilla from e.g. two different Malagasy farms or two different Mexican farms than any general difference between Mexican vanilla or vanilla from any other country. –  Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Jun 20 '12 at 16:02
1  
I guess I just think it takes a bit of justification to say that it's purely a marketing designation, when it seems quite plausible that there would be real differences. Your comment is a start at that. –  Jefromi Jun 20 '12 at 17:57

All the vanilla beans cultivated around the world come from MEXICO and where transplanted to Madagascar, Indonesia, Reunion, Tonga, Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, Reunion, etc, etc. They go by the name Vanilla Planifolia but it's really "Mansa" meaning "Domesticated" in Spanish. Pompona is a cross originated in Mexico in the early 1900's with the idea of increasing the vanillin content. Vanilla Tahitensis is a subspecies like Pompona with low vanillin yield. That is why the Vanilla Planifolia was called Vanilla Planifolia and under in the old text books they wrote in parenthesis ................... (The True Vanilla) and it originated in Mexico and no where else. So what is the different between the Mexican and the one's grown in Madagascar, Papua New Guinea? 0, nada, nothing. Quality vanilla beans comes when you grow the vine on rich soil and with good farm practices (not crowding the vines, water/moist environment and the right shade/sun). BUT, the most important part of the process is WHEN to cut the bean from the vine. This has to be done bean by bean when yellow at the tip (this is how nature tells that the bean is fully matured "the vanillin inside" is ready for further process). The 2nd part is the drying/curing process again if the bean has been cut when yellow at the tip not only will you get higher vanillin (2.%+) but also the process of curing will be shorter (vanillin is a natural preservative). Also there will be very little loss beans due to mold which occurs more often when the beans are cut "green" instead of yellow at the tip. Please note that drying and curing go together after that you get "the maturing in the boxes" which could last up to nine months before releasing to market. You could get a beautiful plum bean but it could have very little vanillin count just because it was cut before it's maturity. So, is not about where the vanilla beans are grown but about when they where cut. The quality of the vanilla bean can be measured by it's vanillin content in the lab. The higher the vanillin count is the result of all of the above. Vanilla is really an orquid and the vine and the resulting orquids grown better in a "canopy environment" that is where the toll trees cover and protect from the sun and the rain creating a "moist hot, cooking" perfect growing environment that is why is so important to protect the forest/jungle. The best vanilla beans come not from plantations but from "home farm" where the beans are cut one by one when yellow at the tip/fully matured and cured by the same farm family. To make vanilla extract you need 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans, 35% alcohol and water. Sincerely, Juan J. San Mames President Vanilla, Saffron Imports www.saffron.com

share|improve this answer
    
By that logic all coffee would be "Ethiopian" or "Kenyan" coffee, as coffee originated in North Africa. Clearly the terroir makes a difference when growing crops like this, so it's worth noting where they were grown. –  sourd'oh Jan 1 at 11:35

Vanilla "beans" or pods go through an extensive process to give the flavor you know. One of the main differences in vanilla produced in various regions is the tweaking of this process.

First, vanilla is heated to kill the pod to prevent sugar from turning to starch, and to break down cell walls. After this is a repeated process of exposure to sun and wrapping in cloth--this stage develops vanillin, the main flavor component. Lastly, the pods are straightened and dried to further develop flavor. It is in this last stage that mexican vanilla differs most significantly--whereas vanilla from Madagascar may take about 5 weeks, Mexican vanilla will cure for several months.

share|improve this answer
    
This sounds interesting but it kind of conflicts with other answers that say that Mexican vanilla is cheaper quality. Do you have references for this? –  Sobachatina Jun 22 '12 at 16:19
2  
Yes--straight from Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" (pages 431-432) –  Ray Jun 22 '12 at 18:01
    
I don't think this answer contradicts e.g., that of Tor-Einar Jarnbjo. That the bean may be of generally higher quality does not imply that there are no less-than-scrupulous extract-makers adulterating the extract. –  Ray Jun 22 '12 at 18:13
    
@Ray- I agree that those statements independently don't contradict but as answers to my question one is "it's better" and one is "it's worse." –  Sobachatina Jun 22 '12 at 19:49

According to my favorite source of spices, Penzeys, there is a difference between Madagascar Vanilla

Regarded as the world's best, Madagascar beans set the standard for prime vanilla flavor.

and Mexican Vanilla

Mexican beans, while similar to Madagascar, have a darker flavor that is perfect for vanilla liqueur and coffee drinks.

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.