Vanilla Beans Are Not Beans At All But The Seed Pods Of?
Although we might call them vanilla beans, the “beans” we use to create vanilla flavoring for food are actually seed pods. These seed pods are the fruit of plants in the genus Vanilla which is within the family Orchidaceae; vanilla is just a very delicious form of orchid flower.
The most widely grown and used variety in the world is Vanilla planifolia. The V. planifolia species originated in Central America and is now grown throughout the region (primarily in Mexico) and Madagascar.
The plant is a vine and can grow up to 300 feet tall, but when commercially cultivated the vines are carefully contained and grown laterally to make them more accessible to workers both for ease of harvesting and hand pollination (a necessary step given the low natural pollination rate of the plant).
Image courtesy of H. Zell.