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The Role of Microorganisms in Vanilla Curing

By: Patrick Dunphy and Krishna Bala
Posted: April 30, 2012, from the May 2012 issue of P&F magazine.

Vanilla is the number one tonality in the world because of its subtle, but complex, flavor. It is known that microorganisms are present during the different stages of vanilla curing, and it is conjectured that they may play a role in this process as well as in flavor generation and loss.1 However, not much consistent information is available, probably due to the following:

  • About 70% of the world supply of vanilla beans are grown and cured in Madagascar. There are more than 60,000 small, subsistent farmers and a significant number of them cure their own green vanilla beans in remote areas where for all practical purposes clean water and sanitation do not exist. The bacterial populations of these green vanilla beans and the curing equipment employed vary from one farmhouse to the next. As a result, it is not possible to anticipate or expect identical microbial profiles.
  • Vanilla curing for the most part is based more on tradition than science, so there are no established curing procedures or sanitary standards except in a few locations where curing is conducted under more controlled operating regimens.2

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