Welcome To The Vanilla Guide For Uganda

Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa with rolling hills and low mountains. It is believed that vanilla was first introduced to Uganda in the 1940s by British farmers.

Unlike other growing regions, vanilla grown in Uganda can be harvested twice a year, in December and in June or July, due to the country’s distinct weather patterns. Although vanilla-pollinating bees do live in Uganda, they are too few and far between to be of much use, so Ugandan beans are hand-pollinated. The beans are best picked when the ends become slightly yellow and split. Then, they go through a blanching, sweating and storing process similar to that of Madagascar.

The Vanilla beans cultivated in Uganda have a creamy tasting just  like the Madagascar Bourbon, but slightly sweeter, with notes of chocolate.

Growing Vanilla In Uganda

Vanilla The Orchid

Vanilla is a member of the orchid family (Orchidaceae) and there are 110 documented species of the genus Vanilla. It is native to Mexico. Two species of vanilla are used commercially, and Vanilla planifolia is the most common species in the food industry. In this diverse genus of Vanilla, there is a large leaf or “giant” vanilla species and other species that look leafless with small scales instead of traditionally shaped leaves.

All vanilla species are vines and will produce flowers under the right conditions. If the flowers are pollinated, they will produce a fruit or pod (commonly called a vanilla bean). These fruits are filled with tiny black seeds. In nature, a bee native to Mexico pollinates vanilla flowers; however, this bee is very specialized and has a small range so commercial growers pollinate vanilla by hand.

Hand-pollinating is labor intensive and contributes to the high price of vanilla beans and of real vanilla extract. Much of the vanilla sold in the store is labeled as “imitation” vanilla extract and made synthetically.

The Aztec Indians are credited with discovering vanilla’s aromatic properties and were using the vanilla bean as early as the 1500’s. The conquistador Cortez observed the ruler Montezuma drinking a vanilla-scented chocolate beverage and brought it to Europe. For 300 years vanilla was produced only in Mexico.

In the 1800’s, a Belgian named Charles Morren discovered that the Melipona bee is the only insect capable of pollinating vanilla and subsequently developed an commercially unfeasible method of artificial pollination. Shortly thereafter, a 12-year old slave in Madagascar, Edmond Albius, created an efficient method of hand-pollinating the vanilla orchid that facilitated worldwide commercial vanilla production.

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