2022 Sourcing Impact
Total Lives Impacted: 1,183
People Empowered via Sourcing Jobs: 188
Lives Supported by Sourcing Jobs: 921
- Lives Impacted through Social Impact Projects: 74
Familiar and nostalgic. Evocative and romantic. Prized since the time of the ancient Aztecs, and often used in perfumes, vanilla is one of the most popular aromas in the world, and one of the most expensive to produce.
Vanilla is originally native to Mexico, the Caribbean, northern South America, and Central America. In fact, the Totonacs and Aztecs used vanilla for ceremonial purposes and beverages. When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, they took vanilla back to Europe. Vanilla became popular, but the Europeans discovered it could only be naturally pollinated by a specific Mexican bee species. Outside of Mexico, there was nearly no chance the vanilla flower would be pollinated on its own, which made it incredibly difficult to cultivate outside its native region. The problem was addressed in 1841, when Edmond Albius—a young slave—learned how to pollinate vanilla blossoms by hand. This discovery allowed vanilla to be grown in tropical areas worldwide.
The time-intensive process required to produce vanilla makes it an expensive spice. In fact, the only spice that’s more expensive is saffron. Because of this, many companies create synthetic vanilla fragrances and flavorings to save time and money. It’s estimated most vanilla-flavored products on the market don’t actually contain vanilla!
Of the real vanilla available in the world, 80% comes from Madagascar, which has the perfect tropical climate for the spice to thrive. In Madagascar, thousands of people—mostly families—are employed in the vanilla supply chain. The harvest is a crucial source of employment for rural communities and an integral part of the local economy, contributing to the livelihoods of almost 80,000 farmers.
The Growing and Harvesting Process
Though vanilla can be grown outside its native land, it’s still a labor-intensive plant and process. It takes three to four years for a plant to begin producing vanilla beans. The flower only blooms one day out of the entire year. The flower is fragile and must be pollinated in the morning while it’s cool. If it’s not pollinated during this incredibly short time period, it wilts—meaning no vanilla beans to harvest later.
Each flower only produces a small number of pods, and these bean pods must mature for nine months before they’re harvested. Once ready, they’re handpicked and quickly taken for processing. The first step in processing vanilla is called killing. It’s certainly a startling name, but killing simply refers to dipping the green pods in a hot bath to stop their development.
The pods are then transferred to wooden boxes for sweating, which activates enzymes in the beans that cause them to soften and turn the dark color you’re more familiar with. The pods rest in these wooden boxes at a warm temperature for 24 to 48 hours.
After sweating, the pods need to dry. Farmers expose them to direct morning sunlight for a few hours a day for 10 days and then dry them in a well-ventilated warehouse for two months. Next, the beans are conditioned. The pods are sorted based on moisture content, color, and quality. Then they’re stored in wooden boxes for two to three months, causing the beans to fully develop their flavor and aroma. The pods are checked on and sorted regularly to ensure the highest quality possible.
Finally, once the beans are fully mature, they’re sorted one final time and packaged for shipping.
The Extraction Process
For doTERRA, the beans aren’t the end product. To create our pure Vanilla absolute, the vanilla pods must first go through a CO2-extraction process, which grinds the beans into small pieces and places them in a pressurized extraction vessel. CO2 supercritical fluid dissolves and separates the components of the vanilla beans, allowing the volatile and nonvolatile active compounds of vanilla to be captured and concentrated.
In a separator, these compounds are divided, and the CO2 supercritical fluid is converted into a gas, leaving the extract clean and free of any solvent residuals. The last step employs a clean, natural alcohol solvent to remove residual waxes or other components from the final product: pure and natural Vanilla absolute.
Impact Stories: Social Impact
Through Co-Impact Sourcing®, the doTERRA Healing Hands Foundation® funded an exciting social impact project that’s being implemented in the heart of the growing and harvesting area in Madagascar. The Mahadera Agricultural Training Center—built and operated by our partners—offers a three-year farming training for the children of vanilla farmers. After graduation, the center provides access to further education opportunities, helping graduates build a securer future for themselves and their families. The center focuses on teaching important skills like crop diversification and financial management.
The mission of doTERRA Healing Hands is to “empower people worldwide to be healthy, safe, and self-reliant.” The Mahadera Center supports its Madagascar community with knowledge, education, and experiences to help them thrive. The center launched in May 2020 with 30 students. Another 43 students were then enrolled, bringing it to 73 students.
doTERRA is proud to support local communities in these ways. doTERRA Healing Hands has always been committed to empowering individuals to help themselves, their families, and their communities. Through efforts like mentoring and education programs—made possible by the training center—people are receiving the help they need to build better lives for themselves.