From orchid to bean to bottle: why vanilla origin matters.

From crème brûlée and panna cotta to sponge cake and meringue, so many of the world’s most popular desserts have one thing in common: vanilla. To cater to today’s conscious consumers and diners, it’s not enough to just tick ingredients off the list. Ingredient origin matters as much as flavour, quality and price point, and transparency is key. That’s why we’re passionate about sharing the Queen Professional vanilla story.

Whether you’ve used Queen Professional for years or you’re new to the brand, it’s important to know what lies behind every drop. Established in 1897 with the brand name inspired by Queen Victoria’s love of vanilla, today we are lucky enough to be regarded as one of the great vanilla houses in the world. However, none of this would have happened without the vanilla farmers who so meticulously grow our product. Let’s take a closer look at the story behind every bottle of Queen vanilla.


The importance of provenance

Research shows that ingredient provenance is important to today’s discerning consumers and transparency around ingredient source can enhance a dish or product’s sense of quality and exclusivity.

Queen Professional’s vanilla range is made using vanilla beans grown in Madagascar, Papua New Guinea, the Comoros Islands and Uganda. Renowned as the world’s best vanilla growing regions, these locations have the hot, humid, tropical climates with frequent rainfall that vanilla thrives in. We have developed long-standing relationships with these regions’ growers and have helped many to build sustainable businesses that they will pass on to future generations.

Vanilla is a labour and time intensive crop to grow, harvest and cure, which is why it’s the second most expensive spice in the world, behind saffron. From the bloom of the flower to the final step of grading is a 19-month process carried out manually by vanilla growers. Understanding the painstaking attention to detail that goes into every crop makes it easy to see why it’s so precious. Here’s what it takes to get vanilla from orchid to bottle.


From orchid to bean

Every vanilla bean begins as a flower on an orchid. A vanilla vine can grow up to 20 metres high but are maintained to a workable height of approximately 1.5 metres for hand harvesting. The vines climb up a solid support, usually a tree that also provides adequate shade.

On average, a vanilla vine has a life span of about 12 years. It takes three to four years for the vine to reach fruit-bearing stage, and it then produces well for seven to eight years.

When a vanilla flower opens, growers have just 12 hours to hand-pollinate the flower for a vanilla pod to be produced. Flowering takes place over a four-month period, during which growers check the vines daily to identify flower buds that are about to bloom. They carry small red ribbons with them, tying a ribbon around the stem of flowers that will be ready for pollination the next day. This method ensures every flower can be located again quickly and eventually grow into a vanilla bean.

Each pollinated flower produces one green pod that takes six to nine months to grow and mature to approximately 18-20 centimetres long. If a flower is missed and not hand-pollinated, a pod won’t be produced, and it’s not until the next season that new vanilla flowers are ready for pollination.


Harvest time

The green vanilla pods are harvested as they begin to turn yellow at the tip, indicating they are ripening, about nine months after pollination. Each pod contains thousands of tiny black seeds.

As the flowers have all been pollinated at different times, the pods will be ready for harvest at different times, meaning the vines must be checked daily to identify the beans perfect for picking.

Timing is everything when it comes to harvesting vanilla. Picking pods too early produces an inferior quality product, while leaving it too late will cause the beans to split during curing.

The 5-step curing process 

After the beans are harvested, the curing process to develop the flavour of the beans gets underway.

  1. Blanching. The beans are blanched in hot water to stop their growth and activate the enzymes responsible for the development of vanilla aroma.
  2. Sweating. Still green, the beans are then tipped into large containers and covered with cloth or wool to keep them warm as they start to ‘sweat.’ Seven to ten days later, the beans turn brown and begin the long process of developing their characteristic vanilla flavour and aroma.
  3. Drying. Now brown but retaining most of their moisture, it’s time for the beans to dry out to intensify their flavour and aroma. The beans are laid out in the sun by hand, one-by-one, and then alternated with periods of shade to reduce their water content to 20-25%. Late each afternoon they are gathered and wrapped up before being laid out in the sun again the next day. This process is repeated daily for about two weeks, longer if it rains. It is a long but vital process that helps the complex flavours and aromas of the vanilla to develop.
  4. Conditioning. Once dried, the beans are packed into boxes and stored for several months to condition. During this process, a range of changes occur to the flavour of the beans that creates the complex, well balanced flavour and aroma profile of the vanilla your customers enjoy.
  5. Sorting and classification. The vanilla beans are manually graded according to their length, shape, colour and water content. The finest grade beans are bundled and packed in wax paper-lined containers and shipped to Queen Professional.

All up, the curing process typically takes five to seven months.


Vanilla varieties and flavour profiles

Pure vanilla is an extremely complex spice, containing up to 500 different flavour and fragrance components. The major flavour component is vanillin, which sometimes appears as white crystals on high quality, well-aged beans.

While there are nearly 150 species of vanilla in the orchid family, only two are commonly grown and used: Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Tahitensis.

Vanilla Planifolia: accounting for around 90% of cultivated vanilla, its beans are long and slender, rich in taste and smell, with thick, oily skin, an abundance of tiny seeds and a strong vanilla aroma.

Vanilla Tahitensis: accounting for the remaining 10% of cultivated vanilla, its beans are darker, thicker, shorter and contain more water and oil than Vanilla Planifolia. It has a slightly cherry-like vanilla flavour profile.

Other factors that influence vanilla’s flavour and aroma are their growing location, climate and curing method.


Extract or paste: find the vanilla format for your needs

Every shipment of premium quality vanilla beans is used to produce pure vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste. This process takes place in Queen Professional’s custom-built manufacturing and packaging facility in Brisbane.

Pure vanilla extract

Refined and passed down through generations of master brewers for over 120 years, the delicate craft of Queen vanilla extraction combines with the very best beans to produce the signature blend that food professionals the world over have come to rely on.

Queen Professional’s master brewers create extractions to capture the essence and beautifully rounded flavours of the carefully grown and cured vanilla beans. Water and alcohol are used to gently extract the flavour components, with the finished extract then filtered and bottled.

Vanilla bean paste

Queen Professional Vanilla Bean Paste offers the seed content and flavour of whole vanilla beans in a convenient jar or squeeze tube, without the hassle of splitting and scraping the seeds from individual vanilla beans. A beautifully thick infusion of concentrated vanilla extract, it enables busy chefs to deliver consistent, intense vanilla flavour from every teaspoon.


Storing your vanilla

Pure vanilla extract and vanilla bean paste should be tightly closed and stored at room temperature, away from direct sunlight and heat.

Vanilla should never be refrigerated or frozen as condensation may occur, which can lead to mould.

Properly stored vanilla can be kept and used for up to for 4 ½ years.


If you have any questions about sourcing, using or storing vanilla, feel free to get in touch 


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