Sex. Syst. Gynandria, Monandria.
History.—Vanilla (so-called from vainilla or baynilla, the diminutive of vaina or bayna, a sheath or pod) is said [Morren, Annals of Natural History, vol. iii. p. 1, 1839.] to have been brought to the Continent, as a perfume, about the year 1510. It could not, however, have obtained much attention; for Clusius, [Exotic, lib. lii. cap. xviii. p. 72, 1605.] who received it from England in 1602, confesses that he had not seen it before; and he calls it lobus oblongus aromaticus. Hernandez [Rerum Medic. Novae Hisp. Thesaurus, p. 38, Romae, 1651.] describes the vanilla plant under the name of tlilxochitl or aracus aromaticus. The pods were afterwards denominated benzanelles quasi benzionelles, on account of their benzoin-like odour. [Mentzelius, Index Nomin. Plant. Berol. 1682.]
Botany. Gen. Char.—Fruit a long pulpy pod, with round seeds not inclosed in a loose membrane. (Lindley.)
Species.—Although, until recently, most authors have ascribed the vanilla of commerce to the V. aromatica of Swartz; yet the assertion rested upon no certain or known fact, but chiefly upon the belief that V.planifolia bore no odoriferous fruit. [Plumier, who published a figure of V. aromatica, expressly states in his MS., published by Geoffroy (Tract. de Mat. Méd. t. ii. p. 363. 1741), that his plant differs from the Mexican species in being inodorous.] Morren, [Annals of Natural History, vol. iii. p. 1, 1839.] however, by artificial impregnation, obtained fruit from the V. planifolia, which, in fragrance and other qualities, vied with the best vanilla of commerce; and it is probable, therefore, that this species yields part at least of the best or Mexican vanilla.
But Schiede [Schlechtendal's Linnaea, Bd. iv. S. 573, Oct. 1829; also, Pharmaceutisches Central Blatt für 1830, S. 46.] states that there are four forms of Vanilla in Mexico, which he calls respectively V. sativa, V. sylvestris, V. pompona, and V. inodora; [V. inodora, the baynilla de puerco or hog vanilla of the Mexicans, is, Schiede states, a distinct species, but, being deficient in volatile oil, is not used. Desvaux says that in drying it gives out a disagreeable odour, and from this has obtained the name of "hog" vanilla.] the first two of which he thinks have been confounded under the name of V. planifolia. He did not, however, see the flowers of any of these species; and, therefore, it is impossible to characterize them. He likewise mentions a baynilla de mono or monkey vanilla, which he did not examine; and also a baynilla mestiza or hybrid vanilla, a fruit intermediate between that of V. sativa and V. sylvestris.
But although the best vanilla comes from Mexico, there are other sorts which are the produce of other parts of tropical America, and which are certainly not the produce of V. planifolia ; I shall, therefore, also notice such other species as probably contribute some of the vanilla of commerce.
1. V. Planifolia, Andrews, Bot. Rep. t. 538.—Fruit very long, cylindrical, and very fragrant.—West Indies (Aiton), Mexico (?), and Guatemala (?).—Probably yields the best Mexican Vanilla.—Schiede's V. sativa and V. sylvestris are perhaps referable to this species:—
α. V. sativa, Schiede; Baynilla mansa or cultivated vanilla of the Mexicans. Leaves oblong, succulent, the floral ones very small; fruits without furrows.—Grows wild; and is also cultivated in Papantla, Misantla, Nantla, and Colipa.—Yields the finest sort of Vanilla. This, probably, is the La Corrienté or Current Vanilla of Desvoux. [Ann. Sciences Nat. 3me Sér. Botanique, t. vi. p. 119, 1846.—Desvaux says there are two varieties of La Corrienté; one of which is well filled with seeds and pulp, and has a fine skin—this is the most esteemed; the other, or Cuéruda (leathery), has a thick skin, and, though inferior, is legitimate in commerce; It is the Lee, Lem, or Leg of some parta of South America.]
β. V. sylvestris, Schiede; Baynilla cimarrona or wild vanilla of the Mexicans. Leaves oblong-lanceolate, succulent, the floral ones very small; fruits with two furrows.—Grows in Papantla, Nautla, and Colipa.—Its fruit is collected in Papantla, and mixed with that of the preceding sort.—According to the information furnished to Desvaux, this form is the same species as the preceding; but, growing wild in the woods, and deprived of the solar rays, it yields a smaller fruit.
2. V. aromatica, Swartz, in Act. Upsal. vi. 66.—Fruit cylindrical, very long.—South America: Brazil.—Said by Martius to yield the true vanilla (vera siliquae vanillae).
3. V. guianensis, Splitberger, Ann. Scien. Nat., 2de Ser. t. xv. Bot. p. 279, 1841.—Fruit fragrant, 6-8 inches long, three-edged, straight or somewhat falcate; sides 11-15 lines broad, one somewhat convex, two flattish, angles obtuse.—Surinam. Probably yields La Guayra vanilla, and the large vanilla (vanille grosse) of Guiana.
4. V. palmarum, Lindley, Gen. and Sp. of Orchid. Plants, p. 437; Splitberger, Ann. Scien. Nat., 2de Sér. t. xv. p. 283.—Fruit fleshy, 2 inches long and ½ an inch diameter, cylindrical, or slightly three-faced, obtuse at the extremities, bivalved.—Babia. Yields a vanilla inferior in fragrance to the preceding.
5. V. pompona, Schiede; Baynilla pompona or large vanilla of the Mexicans.—Fruit with two furrows, rich in volatile oil, with an agreeable odour, yet will not dry, but always remains soft, and cannot be transmitted to Europe as an article of commerce. Humboldt [Political Essay on the Kingdom of New Spain, translated by J. Black, vol. iii p. 26, 1822.] says that it has scarcely any sale on account of its odour. Desvaux observes that it is certainly the vanilla called by some authors bova (vanilla bouffie, tumid or swollen vanilla), and which is found in French commerce under the name of vanillon.
Curing.—The preparation or curing of vanilla varies probably in different places. At Misantla the fruits are sun-dried, and afterwards sweated in blankets; or, when the weather is unfavourable, they are dried by artificial heat. [Desvaux, op. supra cit.] In some places they are dipped in boiling water, then suspended in the sun to dry, and afterwards oiled. [Aublet, Hist. des Plantes de la Guiane Francoise, t. ii. 1775.] These different processes have for their object not merely the preservation of the fruits, but the development and preservation of their odour, which is supposed to be effected by a kind of fermentation; for in the fresh state, Aublet says, they have no aroma. The seat of the odour has been variously stated to be in the seeds, the pulp, and the fruit coats: probably all these parts possess it in different degrees.
Description.—The dried fragrant fruits of several species of vanilla constitute the vanilla or vanilloes of the shops (fructus vel capsula vanillae; siliqua vanigliae vel banigliaa).
Four sorts are known in the English market; viz., the Mexican or Vera Cruz, the Honduras, the La Guayra, and the Brazilian or Bahia. A fifth sort I have received by private hand.
1. Mexican or Vera Cruz Vanilla.—Imported from Vera Cruz, tied in bundles of 50 pods, weighing, when of good quality, about 9 ½ or 10 oz. The heavier the bundle, the better the quality and the greater the value per lb. The bundles come packed in tin cases, each holding 60 bundles. I have met with two varieties:—
α. Finest Mexican Vanilla.—This consists of pods which are 7 or 8 inches long, ⅓ of an inch wide, tapering at the extremities, and curved at the base. They are longitudinally wrinkled, soft, clammy, and dark brown. Their odour is very fragrant, resembling, but being more delicious than, that of balsam of Peru. By keeping they become coated with brilliant acicular crystals, and are then called crystallized vanilla.
β. Second Mexican Vanilla.—The pods of this sort are shorter (being about 5 inches long), narrower, drier, paler, and less odorous than the preceding, with only a few isolated or no crystals on them. In other respects this sort agrees with the preceding.
Desvaux states that in Mexico five legitimate sorts of vanilla are distinguished: viz., the primiera (the grande fina of Humboldt), or the finest; chica-fina (the mancuerna of Humboldt), or small fine; sacate, or middlings; resacate, or middling-middlings; and basura, or the sweepings.
The puerca and pompona are not considered to be legitimate sorts.
Bourbon Vanilla, according to Bouchardat, [Journ. de Pharm. 3e Sér. t. xvi. p. 274, 1849.] differs from Mexican vanilla only in being somewhat smaller, redder, less brown, drier, and less unctuous.
2. Honduras Vanilla.—Imported from Honduras. Its value is from 2s. to 4s. per lb. The fruits are cylindrical, or slightly flattened, 3 ½ or four inches long, ⅓d or ⅜ths of an inch in diameter, longitudinally wrinkled, brown, and dry. Their odour is vanilla-like, but feeble, and not of that fragrant kind which characterizes the best vanilla.
3. La Guayra Vanilla.—Imported from La Guayra, in Venezuela, in various packages (mostly tins in cases). It is an inferior sort, chiefly used by perfumers, and fetches from 2s. to 4s. per lb.
The fruits are large flattened, or somewhat plano-convex, or obscurely triangulated pods, from 5 to 7 inches long, ½ to ¾ of an inch wide, somewhat narrowed at the extremities, a little twisted or curled, longitudinally wrinkled, here and there presenting a somewhat blistered appearance, brown, with a peculiar (sweetish fruity) vanilla odour. On the flattened side, at each edge, is a more or less distinct welt-like suture.
In the Museum of the Pharmaceutical Society are two pods, probably of the same sort, received from Mr. Stutchbery, of Demerara. They are, however, 7 ½ inches long, more distinctly triangular, blackish externally, and appear as if oiled. They were sent along with a pod of what I believe to be V. guianensis, preserved wet.
La Guayra Vanilla is probably the produce of V. guianensis of Splitberger. It is perhaps the large vanilla (vanille grosse) of Aublet; and is said by Dr. T. W. C. Martius to be sometimes met with under the name of vanillon.
4. Brazilian or Bahia Vanilla.—This consists of pods of about 7 ½ inches long and ¾ of an inch wide. The samples which I have seen have been divided longitudinally, and strictly speaking, therefore, are half pods. This sort is blackish, and damp and sticky to the touch, somewhat as if it had been covered with treacle or some glutinous substance. By digestion in spirit it is deprived of its glutinous coating. It is sometimes brought over quite wet. By some persons it is said to have been preserved in sugar, and that to this substance it owes its dampness. Its odour is not equal to that of the best vanilla.
This sort of vanilla corresponds with the fruit neither of V. aromatica of Swartz, nor of V. palmarum, Lindley—the only two species of vanilla which, according to Martius, are found in the Brazils. Is it V. pompona of Schiede?
5. Panama Vanilla.—I have received a single pod only of this. It is flat, 3 ½ inches long, nearly ¾ of an inch wide, dark brown, and fragrant.
Goodness.—The best vanilla is dark shining brown, plump, heavy, pliant, and soft, and has a fine fragrant smell. The crystallized variety is preferred.
Shrivelled, dull, dry, pale or yellowish brown, faintly smelling, or musty or mouldy pods are bad.
Sometimes dry shrivelled pods are freshened up with balsam of Peru, or are rolled in benzoic acid to give them a crystallized appearance.
Composition.—The crystallized vanilla was analyzed by Bucholz, [Buchner's Repertorium, Bd. ii. S. 253, 1823.] who obtained the following results: Odorous brownish-yellow fixed oil, 10.8; soft resin, scarcely soluble in ether, 2.3; bitter extractive with some acetate of potash, 16.8; acidulous, bitterish, astringent extractive, 9.0; sweet extractive, 1.2; saccharine matter with benzoic acid, 6.1; gum, 11.2; starchy matter, 2.8; woody fibre, 20.0; oxidized extractive dissolved by potash, 7.1; gum extracted by potash, 5.9; benzoic acid, 1.1; water and loss, 5.7.—The ashes of the insoluble fibre consisted of the carbonates of soda, potash, lime and magnesia, sulphate of lime, sulphates, chlorides, alumina, oxide of iron, and oxide of copper.
The nature of the odorous principle [An odour more or less allied to that of vanilla, and therefore called the vanilla odour, it common to many vegetable substances (see Virey, Journ. de Pharm. t. vi. p. 591; also, Mérat and De Lens, Dict. Mat. Med. t. vi. p. 813, and Suppl. p. 727.)] of vanilla has not been satisfactorily made out. It probably resembles that of the balsam of Peru, and belongs to the cinnameine series. By distillation with water, alcohol, or ether, vanilla yields no volatile oil; the liquid obtained by distillation with water being nearly inodorous. It is said that when the fruit is mature it yields from two to six drops of a liquid which has an exquisite odour, and bears the name of balsam of vanilla— none of which, however, reaches Europe, though it is stated to be used in Peru.
The soft needle like crystals which incrust the finest kind of vanilla are usually regarded as either benzoic or cinnamic acid. They are slightly soluble in hot water, and the solution, according to my experiments, reddens litmus. Bley, [Pharmaceutisches Central Blatt für 1831, p. 579.] who examined them, denies that their solution reddens litmus, and considers them to be a peculiar solid volatile oil. They require to be farther examined.
Physiological Effects.—Vanilla is an aromatic stimulant. Its effects probably resemble those of balsam of Peru. It is considered to have an exhilarating effect on the mental functions, to prevent sleep, to increase the energy of the muscular system, and to act as an aphrodisiac. [Sundelin, Heilmittellehre, ii. 203, 3te Aufl.]
Uses.—As a medicinal agent it is not employed in England. On the continent it has been used in hysteria, melancholia, impotency, asthenic fevers, rheumatism, &c.
Its principal use in this country is to flavour chocolate and various articles of confectionery (ices, creams, &c), liqueurs, &c. It is also employed in perfumery.
Administration.—It is exhibited in the form of powder or tincture.
1. Pulvis Vanilla; Powder of Vanilla.—Vanilla is powdered by the intervention of sugar. The pods being cut in small pieces are pounded in an iron mortar with sugar, then sifted, the residue powdered with more sugar, and so on. The powders are then to be mixed. The quantity of sugar required varies according to the state of dryness or succulency of the pods; but in general four parts of sugar are required for one part of vanilla. This powder is used for aromatizing various culinary and medicinal preparations. It may be administered medicinally in doses of a drachm; eqnal to about twelve grains of the pure vanilla.
2. Tinctura Vanilla; Tincture of Vanilla; Essence of Vanilla.—This is prepared by digesting one part of good Mexican vanilla in six parts of rectified spirit. When inferior sorts of vanilla are used, the proportion of this substance is increased.—Vogler [Pharmaceutisches Central Blatt für 1848, S. 448.] states that a tincture of balsam of Peru is sometimes substituted for that of vanilla.