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Vanilla in México

Vanilla was introduced to the world by the Totonac community and has been used in México for more than 500 years!

Presently, the vanilla of México is considered of the finest quality in the world.


Vanilla originates from an orchid that is endemic to México.

The Totonac community, one of the original peoples of the Americas, used vanilla pods and flowers from wild orchids as early as the 13th century (in what is now the Mexican state of Veracruz). Later the Totonac community domesticated the vines.


Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) is from the fruit of a type of orchid that climbs. The vine usually climbs trees. The fruit of the vanilla orchid is a long pod-like seed capsule that measures 13-30 centimeters. The seed contains hundreds of tiny, black seeds. When the fruit is dry it has a dusted, tiny diamond-like appearance and releases an aromatic sweet fragrance.

Vanilla pod-shaped fruit

Special Features

Vanilla flowers bloom in the spring. Each flower must be pollinated the one day the flower blooms. Tiny yellow, green flowers bloom in the morning and die if not pollinated by midday. If the flower is not pollinated the stem bears no fruit.

Once fertilized, the flower dries and the fruit grows. The fruit ripens after nine months, opening at the tip of the pod-like capsule. As the fruit dries the phenolic compounds crystallize and the characteristic vanilla smell is released.       

Bees and hummingbirds are pollinators of the vanilla flower. The mellipona bee (mountain bee) is a type of bee that co-evolved with the vanilla vine in México.  

The vines grow and climb on the surface of trees and can take up to 5 years to mature. The vine can grow up to 30 meters in length. 10 of the more than 150 species of vanilla are found in México.

Whole natural vanilla can be used for cooking and both the pod and the seeds are used.


A hot, humid climate is the best climate for vanilla.  In the state of Veracruz in México, vanilla grows in the mountainous region. As there is moderate rainfall and humidity of more than 80%, the region possesses an ideal climate for vanilla. Furthermore, the temperature ranges from 22 to 32 °C and there is an abundant amount of organic material in the soil.


Fruit collection usually starts in November, when the fruit is still green.  The state of            Veracruz is the primary producer of vanilla, 376 tons  more than 60 species have been domesticated. Presently, most pollination is manual.

For almost three hundred years México was the sole producer of vanilla. Presently, México is considered the fourth vanilla producer globally.

Vanilla has been granted a Destination of Origin certificate.

The commercial preparations of vanilla include the whole pod, vanilla powder, vanilla extract and vanilla sugar.


It is important to note that for the Totonac community the vanilla orchid represented a fundamental role in daily life, in rituals and commercial relationships.  They had considerable knowledge about vanilla. In addition to its medicinal use, vanilla was used for edible, ceremonial, and commercial industry.

Tlilxochitl is the word used by the Zoques-Popolucas.

Tich moya is the word used by the Mexicas (black flower)

Xanath is word used by the Totonacas

Papantla (the city that perfumed the world)

There is also a Totonac vanilla legend.

The Spanish took vanilla seeds to Europe. In México, vanilla production during the colonial period dates to the 1700’s.

Vanilla open capsules in alcohol

You can purchase vanilla products here:

Gaya Vainilla – Somos productores de vainilla mexicana (

Rancho Sta. Beatriz RANCHO STA. BEATRIZ – Vainilla natural de Papantla, Veracruz, México (

Villa Vainilla Villa Vainilla

Zanilli Zanilli | Vainilla Mexicana

Author: AllGoodsOnline


Relatos e Historias en Mexico Number 113 2018  Arqueologia Mexicana

Los totonacas de Veracruz Población, Cultura y Sociedad