Finding Vanilla in Puerto
to Puerto Vallarta want to bring home a bottle of Mexico’s
famed vanilla extract for their kitchens at home.
But is it
real or synthetic?
Because vanilla originated in Mexico,
it’s natural to think that we’d have a good
supply of real, pure vanilla extract. Well, “Surprise!”
That big bottle of 'genuine pure' vanilla your friends
brought back from Puerto Vallarta is probably synthetic.
is the only edible fruit from an orchid, and Mexico
had the monopoly on vanilla extract until the late 19th
century. Most of Mexico’s vanilla was (and still
is) grown in Vera Cruz State on the eastern side of
the country, in the moist mountains that also grow a
majority of Mexico’s coffee and tobacco. As travel
and shipping expanded, Mexican vanilla plants made their
way to France, Tahiti, and Madagascar, all which had
ideal climates for vanilla production. So no matter
where your vanilla comes from, it has its roots in Mexico.
But strong demand for the scent and
flavor of vanilla combined with the labor-intensive
efforts required to cultivate and process real vanilla
created the need for a synthetic version, which was
perfected first by the Germans in 1880. For a while,
other Caribbean and Central American countries produced
artificial vanilla as well, hoping to cash in on their
close proximity to Mexico, and some growth and production
of legitimate vanilla continues to this day in some
of these areas.
The United States is the world's largest
consumer of vanilla, followed by Europe - especially
France. About 1400 tons of dried vanilla is produced
worldwide each year. Our worldwide interest in natural
vanilla has grown considerably in the past several years,
however, and the current annual demand is for 2200 tons
of vanilla. As you can see, there’s an 800 ton
gap in production, thus the demand for synthetic vanilla.
of the vanilla you will encounter in Puerto Vallarta
is synthetic, no matter what the label says. Bogus vanilla
likely includes a high alcohol content (up to 25%),
whereas genuine vanilla extract will have no more than
2% alcohol. Fake vanilla may also contain coumarin,
an extract of the Tonka tree, which can be toxic to
the liver. It has been outlawed in the United States,
but may still find its way into synthetic vanilla here.
The one brand of vanilla here in Puerto
Vallarta that enjoys a reputation of being pure and
‘real’ vanilla is Orlando. It’s not
available everywhere, but look around a bit and you’ll
find it.. If you’re not going
to get the real thing, than you might as well buy your
vanilla back home, where at least you can be pretty
sure that it doesn’t include any harmful chemicals.