Two science institutes in India are working to put real vanilla in vanilla ice creams. They are working on projects to bring down the prices of world’s second most costly spice—vanilla. Most of the vanilla ice creams, custards, soufflés or puddings, world over, are flavoured by synthetic vanilla.
“Artificial vanilla costs just about Rs 600 to Rs 700 per kg in international market while real vanilla is about Rs 2 lakh per kg,” said National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI), Lucknow Director, Dr Rakesh Tuli.
NBRI and the Central Food Technology Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore are working to revolutionise real vanilla production. Vanilla flavouring is derived from beans of vanilla vine. Vanilla vine grows in tropical conditions.
“While NBRI is working on the vanilla plant, the CFTRI is working to reduce the ‘curing’ time of vanilla beans. Curing means extraction of flavour from beans,” said Tuli.
“Vanilla flowers, after pollination, give fruits (beans). Beans’ production is low, as pollination of flowers, all over the world, does not happen naturally. So, cumbersome artificial pollination is done. Natural pollination in flower is difficult as anther and stigma are too widely separated in the flower. The anther that carries pollen grains is too long, while the stigma where pollens have to reach for fertilisation is situated too deep in the flower. We are trying to change the morphology of the flower to make pollination natural and easy,” said Tuli.
In artificial pollination pollens are extracted from anther and dusted on stigma for the flower to fertilise.
Madagascar, the world’s largest producer of vanilla, produces just 6,200 tonnes of vanilla per year. In India, vanilla vines grow in Kerala, Karnataka, Andaman & Nicobar Islands, Tamil Nadu and North Eastern States. NBRI has collected a sizeable germplasm of vanilla vines from the southern Indian states at its Botanic Garden and is waiting for flowering in the vines.
“The Mysore institute has been working for quite some time to reduce the curing time of beans. Currently, the curing process takes over three months. The scientists at the institute are working to reduce curing time by one-and-a-half month. Curing is an intricate process. There are over 200 types of molecules in vanilla beans of which only one type of molecule gives vanilla flavour,” said NBRI Director.
“It is very important project to us. Artificial vanilla is an apology for real vanilla,” he said.