A long, thin pod that is the fruit of one variety of orchid. Vanilla beans have a sweet, perfumed aroma with a woody or smoky flavour. Pure vanilla is relatively expensive because the growth and harvesting process is labour-intensive and time-consuming. The pods are handpicked and dipped immediately in boiling water to halt their growth. Initially, the vanilla bean has no flavour or aroma. The beans must be cured by heating in the sun and wrapping them to sweat at night for up to 20 days. They are then air-dried for 4-6 months to ferment and develop their unique aroma and flavour. The three common types of vanilla beans are Bourbon-Madagascar, Mexican and Tahitian. Bourbon-Madagascar beans are rich, sweet and the thinnest of the three beans. Mexican vanilla beans have a smooth rich flavour. Tahitian vanilla beans are the thickest and darkest, and although very aromatic they are not as flavorful as the other two types.