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What is Pompona Vanilla?

Slofoodgroup Team November 09, 2022

Pompona vanilla is a rare type of vanilla bean grown in Mexico and tropical areas of Central and South America. Today, most commercial Pompona vanilla beans are sourced from the Amazonian regions of Peru. Like most beloved plant products in the culinary realm, though, it has traveled to various locations around the world with suitable climates for the plant to thrive, including Tahiti and Madagascar, which are primarily known for producing large quantities of Vanilla Planifolia and Vanilla Tahitensis, respectively. 

Pompona vanilla, despite a rich history, is relatively unknown in the culinary world. Yet, if it weren’t for the Pompona vanilla orchid being discovered, the more renowned beans derived from the Planifolia and Tahitensis plants may never have been recognized as a culinary delight. Allow us to explain further.

What Makes Vanilla Pompona So Special?

Pompona vanilla is unlike any other vanilla you’ve ever tried, but once you do, you’ll see what all the fuss is about. 

Pompona Vanilla Beans May Have Been The First Vanilla.

Pompona vanilla may have been the first vanilla bean to be used and recorded by explorers who were traveling through Southern Mexico at the time of discovery. Thought to be the most common vanilla variety in ancient times, these are the beans that could have been used to flavor the first, Xocolatl, a popular cacao-infused beverage made by Aztecs and Mayans thousands of years ago. Though, it was the Planifolia variety that was taken oversees and propagated across Europe (unsuccessfully at first, due to the absence of the only natural pollinators of the species).

So, if Pompona beans were once the most common variety for culinary uses, what happened—why are they considered a rare and exotic commodity now?

The explanation is actually quite simple, while Pompona vanilla beans do boast high vanillin content and are thicker and  more supple, it is Planifolia that yields a more prolific harvest. The Pompona plants really just can’t keep up with the overall demand.    

Pompona Vanilla Beans are Prized By Vanilla Afficianados.

Of the three main vanilla species commercially available, Pompona is the most difficult to come by. As is typically the case with the rare and exotic, this makes it all the more desirable, but that isn’t the only reason why it is prized by the vanilla obsessed. Pompona vanilla beans are usually longer and thicker than the other vanilla varieties. As you can imagine, this means they often contain more vanilla caviar within the pod. Additionally, these beans have their own unique flavor and aromatic traits. 

Flavor and Aromatic Traits of Pompona Vanilla Beans.

Like the other vanilla varieties, Pompona vanilla beans have their own unique set of attributes to impart into foods, beverages, and wide array of other vanilla scented products. Pompona beans are often described as being sweet and oily, possessing notes of fresh, ripe plums, dried fruits, and cherries. They are complex and incorporate complex and unexpected flavors into dishes that push past those sweet notes of fruit and linger in the mouth similar to the way rich, dark chocolate does. 

Ready to further expand your vanilla bean knowledge? Check out these informational posts:

Do All Orchids Produce Vanilla Beans? 

Why Is Tahitian Vanilla So Special? 

Vanilla Bean History