Whether in our ice cream, cookies, or coffee creamer, most of us enjoy the sweet, sugary taste of vanilla almost every day. But have you ever thought about where this delicious flavoring comes from? Believe it or not, vanilla actually comes from one very specific kind of orchid — yup, that tropical, free-falling flower we all love.

The Orchid and Vanilla

Among the 30,000 species of orchids found on Earth, one very special species is responsible for creating one of the most popular flavors in the world — vanilla. The vanilla orchid is the only orchid to produce an agriculturally viable crop. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to get a hold of. Surprisingly, it takes a small army to get a vanilla bean from farm (or should we say, flower farm) to table.

Because the vanilla orchid only blooms for one day a year, there’s a less than 1-percent chance that the flower will actually be pollinated and begin its eight month journey to create a vanilla pod. So how exactly is it that this one species has managed to supply an entire world with vanilla? The answer can be found on hand-pollinated farms. That’s right, entire farms are dedicated to pollinating and harvesting vanilla orchid flowers, one-at-a-time.

Once the pod is harvested, it can be used as a whole, crushed into a powder, or split and its insides scraped out. From there, the possibilities for vanilla are virtually endless. Today, the vanilla extracted from the vanilla orchid plant has been made to use everything from food and medicine, to perfume.

The History of Vanilla

Bunch of vanilla sticks and flower on old wood.

It seems we have the Aztecs and Mayans to thank for the delicious sweetener (in addition to the vanilla orchid, of course). Though there’s a chance vanilla was used before them, the Aztecs and Mayans were the first ones to record harvesting and using vanilla. And what exactly did they use it for? Just like today, they used it to add flavor to their chocolate (which also comes from a tropical flower!) drinks.

Who else has suddenly found a whole new respect for vanilla? We sure have!

While we may not have vanilla orchids here at 1800-Flowers.com, we have plenty of beautiful, tropical orchids that will liven up any home!


Tara Carlson graduated from Hofstra University with a degree in Public Relations and loves any and all things creative writing - which is why she is thrilled to be working with Petal Talk. When she's not writing, you can probably find her swimming at the beach, playing soccer, and catching up on the latest movies (she's a big fan of award season)!

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