The species of orchid which produces vanilla beans that is most commonly grown is Vanilla planifolia. This species originated in Mexico and is now grown in many tropical climates. Madagascar is one of the world's leading producers of the plant. The plant grows as a vine and climbs up a tree or pole. The seeds are what produce that great flavor we all know. The beans grow quickly, but then must mature on the vine until it is time to harvest them which is about 9 months. Harvesting at the right time is critical, and the plants must be checked daily when nearing maturity.
The values of the beans are determined by their length. They are often graded as either grade C, B, or grade A. Ones that are over 15 centimeters in length are the highest grade available. There are quite a few seeds inside each pod. A well established vine has the ability to produce a few kilograms of seed pods. After the harvest, they need to be cured and processed. This involves slow drying and conditioning of the pods. Once this is completed, they are shipped to retail stores where you and I can purchase them. When you purchase vanilla beans, it is best to store them in a cool, dry, and dark place until you use them. They will usually remain fresh for about six months. After they have been stored for a while, before you use them, it is best to let them sit in open air for a little bit first. Ice cream is usually the first thought when you mention the use of these tasty beans, but you can use them in a wide range of recipes. If you have never tried using them before, you do not know what you are missing. Have a great time and enjoy cooking.