Vanilla Varieties

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Varieties of Vanilla

There are several hundred varieties of vanilla of which currently three major cultivars of vanilla, all derived from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, are used commercially. They include Vanilla planifolia (syn. V. fragrans), V. tahitensis and V. pompona. The majority of the world's vanilla is the V. planifolia variety. As the vanilla beans are grown and cured in different climates of different regions or countries, they exhibit similar but slightly different properties.


Variety  Species  Grown in  Characteristics
Bourbon vanilla/Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla Vanilla planifolia Madagascar, the Comoros, and Réunion (formerly known as the Ile de Bourbon).  The vanilla flavour is generally stronger compared to using other vanilla types. Beans are long and slender with rich flavour and aroma, contain an abundance of tiny seeds, and have a clear, rich, sweet and creamy vanilla flavour.   
Mexican vanilla Vanilla planifolia Mexico Mexican vanilla beans have a unique, rich flavour but are scarcer than Bourbon vanilla beans. They have a clean, delicate more spicy and woody fragrance. Mexican vanilla beans are chocolate brown to black in color, and the pods are thicker than others.  
Indian vanilla Vanilla planifolia India Beans are similar to Bourbon-Madagascar vanilla. They have a unique, strong flavour and  fruity aroma (2.4% vanillin) which is sweet, creamy, spicy and woodsy. 
Tahitian vanilla Vanilla tahitensis strain.  It is a mutated form of V. planifolia orchid from Tahiti  Tahiti, Hawaii, French Polynesia and Papua New Guinea Tahitensis beans are darker, thicker, shorter and contain more water and oil than the Vanilla planifolia types. They contain fewer seeds and have a unique, more subtle flavour, which is sweet, earthly, with floral aroma and fruity flavour. It is deeper in colour but with less natural vanillin than planifolia.  
West Indian vanilla Vanilla pompona strain  The Caribbean, Central America, South America and West Indies The vanilla beans are of inferior quality than either planifolia or tahitian. The pods are very short, but thick, with less vanillin than the planifolia varieties. The flower colour is darker and larger.
Vanilla Berballata V. berbellata South Florida, Bahamas and the Carribean  Almost no leaves. The colour of the flower is different. They make usable pods but are listed as endangered species. Commercial bean not known from this variety so far. 
Indonesian vanilla V. planifolia Indonesia The beans are very moist and large. They have sweet, woody, smoky and a little harsher flavour. 


Vanilla planifolia species forms the primary vanilla of commerce, widely cultivated around the world. One diagnostic feature of this species is that the apex of the labellum is strongly curved forward, much more so than in closely related species like V. trigonocarpa or V. phaeantha. Four major types of V. Planifolia variants are known in Mexico, that can be distinguished based on stem and leaf color, leaf margin nature etc.

  • Vanilla planifolia ‘Mansa’ (Dura): It is the most typical and common in cultivation. It makes up the vast majority of vines on plantations in Mexico, Africa and Asia and has been widely propagated since 19th century. The leaves are glossy jade green and straight.
  • Vanilla planifolia ‘Variegata’(Rayada): it is an attractive cultivar grown for its colorful leaves, which exhibit alternating stripes of yellow and green.
  • Vanilla planifolia ‘Albomarginata’: it is cultivated for its colorful foliage, which is green with a white margin.
  • Vanilla planifolia ‘Oreja de Burro’ (donkey-eared vanilla): The cultivar looks very similar to a typical V. planifolia ‘Mansa’ plant, except the stems are sometimes thinner and the leaves tend droop on the vines. It exhibit rapid growth rate, disease resistance and vigor but is unproductive due to fruit abortion.  





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