The history of the world's most popular flavor and fragrance spans continents and centuries, but vanilla's origins may surprise even devoted connoisseurs. This revered and expensive spice, with its rare, complex flavor and perfume, actually comes from the fruit of a highly prized orchid.
From its discovery to its fascinating genetics, pollination, and development, leading orchid expert Ken Cameron covers the natural history, biology, structure, evolution, and diversity of the genus Vanilla – especially Vanilla planifolia, the primary natural source of vanilla flavor and fragrance – and related orchids. Illustrated with more than 100 color photographs and vanilla artifacts from around the world, this lively exploration includes a complete account of the genus and of its storied allure. Cameron also traces the path of the vanilla bean from harvesting and curing through commercial processing. Detailed profiles of selected species and hybrids include important tips on cultivation.
The plants are easily propagated from stem cuttings and can be grown at home for their large glossy leaves and beautiful climbing stems. The intriguing white flowers, however, will elude most home growers, as will the vanilla beans themselves. Under ideal conditions flowers emerge during the night and must be pollinated before noon if they are to develop into vanilla beans. But creating one's own vanilla extract and making vanilla ice cream from Thomas Jefferson's original recipe are within every enthusiast's reach.
Ken Cameron developed a passion for botany at an early age, and became one of the first people to apply modern DNA sequencing methods to the study of orchid evolution and classification. As a result of his international lab and field research, he has become an international authority on Vanilla and its relatives. He served as a curator and director of the New York Botanical Garden's molecular systematics laboratory for ten years before relocating to the Midwest. Today he is professor of botany and director of the State Herbarium at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
"A splendid overview of Vanilla. [...] This superb book is a most informative read."
"An interesting and comprehensive volume."
– Reference and Research Book News
"Whether for its horticulture or gustatory insights, I recommend this book heartily."
– Greg Truex, Orchid Digest
"A delightful little book."
– Massachusetts Orchid Society Newsletter