What are the differences in species of vanilla?
There are only 3 types of vanilla grown in the world that are an actual species of their own. These species are often categorized by where they're grown, however that is another conversation for another day. There are over 150 different regions that vanilla beans are grown in, and even if I wanted to, I wouldn't list all of them. Let's take a look at the 3 species.
Vanilla Planifolia is the most common species of the vanilla orchid. It is the first species of vanilla orchid— the plant that all vanilla roots can be traced back to. The pods emit a rich, familiar vanilla flavor and aroma. It is the more potent vanilla variety and easily infuses a deep, earthy, vanillin flavor into any dish. It is easily dubbed as the most common (and familiar) vanilla used by the world.
Vanilla Tahitensis is a very similar to Planifolia in terms of genetic sequencing. It is named after the island upon which it’s commercial cultivation began, though its origin is debated among botanists and vanilla enthusiasts. Some claim it was intentional hybridization, others believe it was a natural evolution, and there are scientific research studies that suggest it was a bit of both—a natural hybridization between Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Odorata, which occurred in Maya cacao forests. It is prized for its sweetness and floral properties. Vanilla Tahitensis is also more commonly found in fragrances, due to the floral aroma.
Vanilla Pompona grows in the same range as Vanilla Planifolia, ranging from Mexico to the northern part of South America. It also grows wild just like in Mexico, and is far more suitable to shaded environments and does not deplete soil quality. It has a smoky and rich earthy profile as well as strong notes of vanillin flavor (recorded at almost 10g of vanillin per 100g of vanilla beans). It is not commercially produced like Vanilla Planifolia, but is the earliest recorded flavoring of vanilla. It likely would have been the first cultivated form of vanilla, but crop yields were less than that of Planifolia.