What ever happened to Mexican vanilla?

By Kate Bielamowicz

Aromatic vanilla is native to Mexico, yet the country only produces 1 percent of the world’s supply, said Óscar Mora Domínguez of Finica Xanath, a vanilla farm in Veracruz.
Mora Domínguez is part of a small group of Mexican vanilla producers who are working to rescue Mexican production, as well as the species vanilla planifolia, which is in danger of extinction according to report by the National Commission for Knowledge and Use of Biodiversity.
“Vanilla is lost to us. Vanilla in Mexico is like looking at something in a museum. It’s ancient,” Mora Domínguez said.
“But it isn’t that. It shouldn’t be that. It’s a candy, a honey, a mole, a coffee, a perfume. It’s a reflection. It’s a medicine. It’s us. It’s ours,” he said.
And it’s true. Nine of the 15 Mesoamerican aromatic vanilla species are found in Mexico.
The plant was first discovered by the Totonaco in the northern areas of Veracruz and Puebla. It is a cultural symbol and an economic one in the region.
Yet the current problem, says Mora Domínguez is that although there is demand for natural vanilla, the production doesn’t exist.
Natural vanilla production is not a quick and easy process, either. The average vanilla plant takes 3 to 4 years to produce, said Mora Domínguez.
His farm, Finica Xanath, does every step of the harvesting vanilla, including pollination.
“Some days we might pollinate 5,000 flowers by hand. Imagine that when vanilla flowers only last half a day,” he said.
“It’s a lot of cost and a lot of production.”
For this reason, Mora Domínguez is advocating a combined effort between businesses and producers to help drive the production of Mexican vanilla and reach the demand that is otherwise unmet due to economic and ecological issues.
Some organizations are taking notice, particularly the Mexican Orchidology Association (AMO) and the Franz Mayer Museum. They are specifically featuring vanilla in their upcoming exhibition, “Orquídeas. Otoño 2014” (“Orchids. Autumn 2014”).
Vanilla, after all, is a type of orchid. “It’s one of the oldest types of orchids,” said Eduardo Pérez, president of AMO and National Autonomous University of Mexico professor.
Vanilla is endemic to Mexico but the majority of vanilla consumed in Mexico is artificial, Pérez said.
Orchid festival organizers are hoping that platform will help grow awareness about Mexican vanilla and drive production efforts.
“We have contacted various producers of vanilla to come and showcase their products so that the people might become more familiar with Mexican vanilla,” said Pérez.
“The idea is that the consumer has direct access to the producer,” he said. Finica Xanthal vanilla farm is one of those producers.
“Whenever you smell real vanilla, you crave it. This is the connection we want to make,” said Franz Mayer Museum Director Héctor Rivero Borrell Miranda.
“Orquídeas. Otoño 2014” will feature orchid exhibitions, photography, products for sale, educational workshops and conferences, many of which will be geared toward the preservation and cultivation of Mexican vanilla.
“People often go to the orchid sale, but not the conferences, which is why we picked vanilla as a theme,” said Professor Rebeca López of AMO. “It’s our country’s ‘black gold.’”
The orchid festival will be held from Oct. 15 to 19 at the Franz Mayer Museum in Mexico City. Over 300 plants from 60 different species will be on display.
Puerto Vallarta is home the spectacular Vallarta Botanical Gardens and its’ new Vallarta Conservatory of Mexican Orchids which will showcase living native plants, primarily Orchids.
Source: The News

One comment

  1. Aa interesting and informative article. Vanilla has been the favorite ice cream flavor in America as long as I can remember. It is also used in cream soda. Since most vanilla flavorings are artificial, we purchase vanilla bean ice cream, and no longer consume vanilla cream soda.. We used to purchase natural vanilla flavoring during our annual vacations in Puerto Vallarta to bring home, until it was hard to find and usually was artificial in spite of what the label said. The misses likes vanilla in her hot chocolate and I in my ice cream. Time to bring it back in Mexico.

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