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Vanilla (Vanilla Planifolia)

Vanilla planifolia is indigenous to Mexico, where it is pollinated by tiny humming birds and a bee called Melipona. When it was transplanted to other parts of the world it didn't produce beans until it was discovered that the small orchid blooms could be pollinated by hand.

The vines grow around trees and when the flowers fall, the bean stops growing, thus it's very important to keep the flower from falling. That is why in Mexico, it's grown under the jungle canopy to protect it from high winds common in the tropics.

The Totonacus people of the region grow the vines with an almost religious devotion.

Vanilla pods can be re-used. Having flavoured your desired sauce, rinse them carefully, then either dry them to use again, or bury a few in a jar of caster sugar to make vanilla sugar.

The pods can be used to make vanilla extract by adding on to a quarter litre of vodka. The mixture should then be allowed to stand undisturbed for about a month.

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