When you hear the phrase 'vanilla bean tattoos', you might initially be conjuring up visions of people having some kind of body art extended their skin using vanilla juice or something of that order.
However, the practice of applying vanilla bean tattoos has nothing to do with body art, but instead refers to the practice of farmers intentionally applying some kind of symbol or scar to vanilla bean pods. There's a very definite reason for doing this, and that's what we'll explore in the information below.
Usage of vanilla bean tattoos
The main reason vanilla bean tattoos are used is so a farmer can identify the bean pods actually grown on his/her farm. Here's why that's necessary. There are a great many global factors which have contributed to the extremely high price of vanilla beans. First among these is the tremendous usefulness of vanilla in all kinds of recipes, beverages, and other applications all around the globe.
Vanilla beans are obtained from the vanilla orchid plant, which is a vine type of plant that only blooms once each year. When it does bloom, there are only about 12 to 24 hours in which the flower can be pollinated, so that beans can be produced. Unfortunately, very few natural pollinators are available for this plant, which means pollination must be accomplished exclusively by hand. After the plant has been successfully pollinated, there's a waiting period of nine months before harvesting can begin, and that's another process which is exclusively manual, calling for individual beans to be cut from the vine.
Then come the curing and drying stages which are also done manually. Then too, there are always certain weather events that interfere with production, for instance the powerful cyclone that struck Madagascar in 2017. This had the effect of significantly decreasing the supply of vanilla around the entire globe. Given the fact that there is such high worldwide demand for vanilla, and that the supply is relatively low, the going price for vanilla beans is constantly rising.
Because this is such a valuable crop, it has motivated a number of thieves to simply steal the bean pods when they're ready to be harvested, and enjoy a massive profit, with no actual work on their part. This is the whole rationale behind applying vanilla bean tattoos. By tattooing or branding their entire crop, farmers can establish that they are the rightful owners of the vanilla beans, and that anyone else trying to sell them must have acquired them illegally.
Technique for tattooing vanilla beans
Now that you know what vanilla bean tattoos are, we can discuss how they are applied. Of course, they aren't really tattoos at all, but are more akin to the brands which cattle farmers might apply to their herd in order to demonstrate ownership. There is no ink used in tattooing vanilla beans, but they are poked using fine needles, and that produces distinctive scars on the bean pods. In many cases, farmers will use these needles to engrave their initials into the pods while they're still green.
They use a poking process that creates clusters of tiny dots over a very specific area of each bean. Someone who is not aware of the vanilla bean tattooing process might think that these are simply imperfections which have been created by disease or by insects, but they're actually identifiers used by the farmers. The good thing is that they do not in any way impact the quality or the flavor of the vanilla beans.
As you might imagine, it can be an extremely tedious procedure to have to go through an entire field of vanilla beans to make sure that each individual being has been properly marked. Unfortunately, measures like this must be taken by farmers so they have a chance of keeping their crops secure from thieves.
If such measures were not taken by farmers, they would suffer massive losses due to constant theft. It would also affect consumers, since this would allow a flood of substandard beans to be injected into the global market. The fact is that tattooing the vanilla beans is just one more manual process among all the other manual procedures that are mandatory in order to bring this marvelous plant to market. At that point, they can be appreciated by vanilla lovers all around the world.
Tattooed beans are safe for consumption
Since vanilla bean tattoos are simply little scars on the external shell of the vanilla bean, there is no negative effect on the flavor or the quality of the vanilla itself. However, vanilla beans that have been tattooed in this manner are generally classified as Grade B beans because a number of consumers will misinterpret the tattoos as bug infestations or some other kind of negative event.
Most individuals in the vanilla bean industry are aware of the usage of tattoos, and many of them will not automatically downgrade the beans based on the presence of tattoos. Others will apply the lower grade as a means of avoiding any kind of customer service issues. It's really a matter of the policy of each vanilla bean processor whether specific beans get downgraded or not based on the presence of tattoos.
Where does tattooing occur?
Since the vast majority of the world's supply of vanilla comes from Madagascar, tattooing is a practice most noticeable from that region. That is where the process of making vanilla beans secure actually originated, which is understandable since that is by far the locale of greatest vanilla bean production. However, the value of vanilla beans is consistent all around the globe wherever they're grown, and that means tattooing has become popular in all those regions as well.
Anywhere in the world where vanilla beans are grown, they are subject to being hijacked or stolen by individuals bent on profiteering. That means some means of establishing security will always be necessary, and that's why vanilla bean tattooing has become common wherever the beans are actually grown.