The Vanilla Conspiracy

Have you ever believed something was true for a long time, then found out it was a lie? I guess most people experienced this as children, when they discovered Santa wasn’t real. I always knew Santa was someone’s dad dressed up in a cheap red polyester costume in the middle of the Australian summer. But a few years ago I discovered everything I knew about vanilla was wrong. This may seem ridiculously frivolous, but let me explain. I’ve been cooking and baking since I could stand up on a chair in the kitchen alongside my mum. I love experimenting, testing recipes and discovering all sorts of new ingredients.

Even when I was living on a university student’s budget, I would happily go into my local gourmet food shop and ask for their softest, plumpest vanilla bean for my next recipe, despite the fact it cost an arm and a leg. As any good foodie learns from reading cookbooks and cooking magazines, the best vanilla should be flexible, squishy and fragrant. Leathery or dry beans are flavour less and bad quality, so say the best cooks in the world.

This is what I naïvely believed, until I went to visit the vanilla cooperative in Bras Panon. At first, everything was going well. We saw the vanilla plants growing, learnt about pollinisation and harvesting. But when we sat down to watch a short film about the vanilla maturation process, I nearly fell off my chair. The guide explained how it takes many months, even years to dry out the pods, in order to develop the vanillin inside. According to this expert, the best quality vanilla is dry enough to tie in a knot, and should be odourless. Armed with this new information, I did some more research. As it turns out, the big, shiny and fragrant vanilla pods found at many markets are known as « vanille zoreil » or « vanille touriste. »

Frequently, the pods are so fragrant because the vendors spray vanilla extract on their products to entice customers. Not only is this type of vanilla lacking in taste, it often becomes mouldy after being stored in the pantry. Since discovering this, I have a newfound love of vanilla. I’ve always cheered for the underdog, and knowing that the ugliest, leatheriest and least fragrant vanilla pods are the best quality makes me happy. I feel like the luckiest home baker to have access to some of the best vanilla in the world right on my doorstep.


true – vrai
lie – mensonge
Santa – père Noël
dressed up – déguisée
wrong – faux

to bake – faire la pâtisserie
plumpest – le plus dodu
despite – malgré
to cost an arm and a leg – coûter un bras
squishy – mou

leathery – comme du cuire
to harvest – cueillette
to fall off one’s chair – tomber à nu
to dry out – sécher
to tie in a knot – faire un nœud

shiny – brillant
to entice – séduire
mouldy – moisi
pantry – placard
to cheer for the underdog – encourager l’outsider
doorstep – palier

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1 réflexion au sujet de “The Vanilla Conspiracy

  1. I agree that the shape of the bean has no effect on its fragrance and that a lot of vanilla sold on the local markets are unreliable but I still think good vanilla looks shiny and smells pleasantly.
    I recommend reading Tim Ecott’s book « Vanilla : Travels in search of the Ice Cream orchid » with some chapters about his visit to Réunion.
    Have you tasted vanilla naturally matured from the Jardin des parfums et des épices in St-Philippe? A top quality!

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