Vanilla Species

There are at least 150 species of vanilla indigenous to tropical regions worldwide.

Despite the fact that varieties of the vanilla orchid can be found in such diverse places as Africa and Asia, the only species that have proved to be edible and useful, came originally from the Americas. Further, there are only two members of the American family that have been used commercially: Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Pompona Schiede

A third edible species, Vanilla Tahitensis was believed to have originated by crossing Planifolia and Pompona stock in a plant laboratory in Manila in the 1700s. It is rather a subspecies of Vanilla Planifolia.

Vanilla produces the only edible fruit in the entire orchid family.


Botanical Name Vanilla planifolia Andrews or vanilla fragrans
Common Name Vanilla Orchid
Family: Orchidaceae (orchid family)
Origin: Mexico
The planifolia is a tropical, evergreen, leafy, and somewhat fleshy vine, growing under a canopy of support trees. The plant is sustainable within a 20-degrees band around the equator. The “Bourbon vanilla” is the term used for vanilla beans grown only on the Indian Ocean islands of Madagascar, Reunion, Comoros and Mayotte.

This variety also includes vanillas grown in India, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Mexico, Guatemala, and Uganda, but without the label “Bourbon”.


The “Vanillon” (Vanilla Pompona Schiede) is a species of the genus Vanilla. This variety has become very rare, but still found in Guadeloupe and in the West Indies from Mexico to Bolivia and Brazil.

It flowers from January to May. The flowers are greenish yellow with a lip color varying from white to reddish yellow. The leaf shape is oval and wide.

The quality of its beans is nevertheless considered to be lower with a low vanillin content and a strong smell of coumarin. The fruits are shorter and more rounded than those of the reference case (Vanilla planifolia).


Vanilla Tahitensis is a weaker vanilla with ‘fruity, floral, and sweet’ flavors created by the compound heliotropin. Tahitensis is a mutated form of a planifolia orchid from Tahiti, though most Tahitensis vanilla is now grown in Papua New Guinea.

Some vanilla of this type is also grown in Tahiti and Indonesia.

The vanillin content in Tahitensis vanilla is lower in comparison to the planifolia vanilla variety.


Although there are over a 100 varieties of Vanilla, there are two major varieties used commercially:


Bourbon vanilla is the generic name for vanilla species planifolia. Originating in Mexico planifolia vanilla cuttings were taken in the 1800s and grown by the French in large plantations at  Ile de Bourbon thus explaining the origins of it’s name. Bourbon vanilla has the familiar vanilla flavour we have come to know and love, such as that in ice cream, flavoured desserts and drinks. Common examples include vanilla grown in Madagascar, India, Reunion, Uganda etc.


Tahitian vanilla is the generic name for the vanilla species tahitensis. This variety is the name for vanilla from French Polynesia. This variety is descended from Vanilla planifolia that was introduced to Tahiti before mutating into a distinct species. Tahitian vanilla is earthly and fruity, with less natural vanillin than planifolia.

Indian Vanilla Vs other Vanilla varieties such as Madagascan, Bourbon , Mexican, Tahitian etc.

Vanilla from India is the same variety (Planifolia) that is grown in Madagascar, Reunion & Mexico. All these pods have a fruity aroma and strong flavour. As these pods are grown and cured in different climates, they have similar but slightly different properties. Tahitian beans are a different species and have a earthy aroma and flavour and a different texture.

Indian Vanilla has now found acceptance worldwide and the country is now acknowledged as a major Vanilla producing nation.