Vanilla Orchid Vine
You may be surprised to discover that one of the most popular flavors in the world, vanilla, comes from an orchid.
The vanilla orchid vine (Vanilla planifolia) is native to tropical forests of Central and South America. It was first used by Aztecs to flavor their chocolate drink.
In its natural environment, the flowers are pollinated by a specific insect that inhabits the same areas as this orchid. When grown commercially, outside of its native habitat, the flowers must be pollinated by hand for the long bean to develop.
The beans are harvested, dried and cured. This long arduous process explains why vanilla is the second-most expensive spice in the world.
As the demand for vanilla outgrew the supply artificial vanillin was created. This synthetic version is made from a variety of items including the lignin from paper pulp. Imitation vanilla extract is derived from synthetic vanillin not the vanilla plant.
A bit more information: Curing the vanilla is also labor intensive. The beans are dipped in boiling water, dried in the sun and covered at night. This takes several months for the vanilla flavor to develop.