The curing method described below is the "Bourbon method" which has been massively adopted by producing countries. After picking, vanilla curing consists of six operations. Each stage is important.
Killing: This operation involves dipping wicker baskets containing green vanilla pods in water heated at 65°. Immersion lasts for about three minutes and is intended to kill the pod.
Sweating: The pods are then stacked in large wooden crates padded with wool blankets to retain the heat for twelve hours (sweating). It is at this stage that the vanilla takes on its characteristic chocolate brown colour, the fermentation catalyst helps it to subsequently develop the characteristic vanilla aroma.
Drying: Intermittent exposure to shade and sunlight. The pods are laid out on wooden racks. Sun-drying only lasts for about two weeks, shade-drying, following sorting, lasts for more than a month.
Conditioning: The pods are then placed in wooden crates wrapped in paraffin paper for eight months. The fragrance appears late and is refined during this period. The crates are checked every week and any mouldy pods are removed.
Grading: The pods are measured and classified one by one as "split" "non split" "black and red". The length and colour determine the value of the vanilla. Pods of the same length and classification are generally tied into small bundles. Each bundle weighs about 250 grammes (70 - 100 pods). The weight and number of pods depend on the quality.
Packaging: Pods are packed into tin or reinforced cardboard boxes wrapped in paraffin paper. Vacuum packaging of unbundled vanilla which is sorted into batches of 1.5 or 10 kg for better conservation is the new packaging method used by the majority of Madagascan exporters.
All of these operations result in a 40 - 50% weight loss compared to the initial weight.
Vanilla cultivation and curing require constant attention, ancestral know-how, and are labour intensive.
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