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Any member of a group of tropical climbing orchids that make up the genus Vanilla, and the flavouring agent extracted from its seedpods. The plant has a long, fleshy climbing stem that attaches itself by aerial rootlets to trees; roots also penetrate the soil. Numerous flowers open a few at a time and last only a day. The fruit, a bean pod about 8 in. (20 cm) long at maturity, is harvested as soon as it turns golden green at the base. Curing and processing turn the pods a deep chocolate brown. Vanilla is used in a variety of sweet foods and beverages as well as in perfumery.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on vanilla, visit Britannica.com.