There are over one hundred listed species of vanilla beans, but they are essentially localized. Historically, only three species have been chosen to produce the vanilla beans that we are familiar with: Vanilla Planifolia (or Fragrans), Vanilla Tahitentis Moore, Vanilla Pompona Shiede.
Vanilla Planifolia (or Fragrans)
This species is the most widely sold around the world. It was first introduced to growing areas in the Indian Ocean in 1817 by a man named Mr. Marchant. Today, Vanilla Planifolia hails from Madagascar, Reunion and the Comoros Islands. It is commonly called "Bourbon", and is also grown in India, Uganda, Indonesia, Mexico and the Tonga Islands. This vanilla has one of the highest natural vanillin contents (2.9 to 3.8 gm/ml).
Vanilla Tahitentis Moore
This vanilla species was introduced to the Polynesian Islands by French Admiral F. Hamelin in 1848. Tahiti was the second largest vanilla producer in the 1950s (behind Madagascar). In the current market, its high cost due to expensive labor, its low vanillin content (1.7 gm/ml) and strong anise aroma have made it second to Bourbon vanilla.
Vanilla Pompona Shiede
Martinique, Guadeloupe, tropical South America, Brazil, and Guyana are the only places where this vanilla species grows. It is best known as the “Vanillon" or “Banana Vanilla" because its beans are short and thick. The species is known for having a very low yield, unusual cultivation and a lower vanillin content.