Vanilla comes from the vanilla orchid, of which there are hundreds of species. Of the hundreds of species of vanilla orchids there are currently about three species under regular cultivation for consumption: vanilla planifolia, vanilla tahitensis, and vanilla pompona. A few other species are in development for cultivation.
Vanilla beans come from the vanilla orchid - with many species and varieties.
The most cultivated species of vanilla is vanilla planifolia which is native to Mexico and Guatemala. Most of the vanilla extract in the world is made with the vanilla planifolia species of vanilla orchid at approximately 90-95% of all vanilla cultivated. Vanilla planifolia has a creamy rich flavor and deep notes. The growing conditions (terroir) and the curing techniques result in a great variety of aroma and taste in this species of vanilla.
Vanilla Planifolia is native to Mexico & Guatemala. It is now grown all over the world.
The next most cultivated species of vanilla is vanilla tahitensis which is a hybrid species from Tahiti in the South Pacific. Vanilla Tahitensis , also called 'Tahitian Vanilla' is a polyploid species (hybrid) of vanilla planifolia and vanilla odorata. Tahitian Vanilla is less intense and more floral in aroma.
The third species of vanilla in cultivation is Vanilla Pompona. Vanilla Pompona, also known as 'banana vanilla' because of its large banana-like bean, is cultivated in small amounts in primarily Peru, Mexico, and Guadeloupe. Vanilla Pompona is the rarest of the three main vanillas in cultivation, but there is increased interest in this type of vanilla as a source of vanilla flavoring. The taste and aroma of vanilla pompona is more robust, floral, and earthy than Vanilla Planifolia or Vanilla Tahitensis.
Table. Summary of Vanilla Types and Production. (PNG=Papua New Guinea).