Vanilla beans (pods) are the dried, unripe fruits of the orchid Vanilla planifolia. Every flower is hand pollinated and each blossom produces a single bean that is normally harvested after 8 or 9 months.
We use vanilla pods from South America and the West Indies.
Vanilla pods, and vanillin extracted from them, are used as flavouring in cakes, ice creams and custards.
Vanilla absolute, resinoid and vanillin are popular perfume ingredients and are used in aromatherapy.
Vanilla pods are made up of sugars, vanillin, fats and mineral salts. The sugars in vanilla act as humectants (moisture binding), when applied topically, and are particularly suitable for retaining moisture on hair, skin and lips. The humectant action also forms a barrier on skin, preventing moisture loss.
Vanillin is the main source of the characteristic vanilla scent and it has also been shown to have some antioxidant properties.