Vanilla. It’s the ultimate classic flavor. The word itself is part of our cultural vernacular, even though vanilla is anything but dull! Vanilla Shakeology is made from real vanilla sourced from sustainable farms in Madagascar. Getting this vanilla wasn’t easy, but as you’ll find out, nothing involving that plant ever is.
The History of Vanilla
Vanilla, the only member of the temperamental orchid species that produces edible fruit, originated 60 to 70 million years ago. There are more than 150 species of the plant, and while most vanilla used for commercial production today comes from Tahiti, India, and Madagascar (where we sourced the vanilla found in Vanilla Shakeology), vanilla once thrived along the coasts and in the tropical forests of Mexico and Central and South America.
According to Patricia Rain, the author of Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World’s Favorite Flower, ancient tribes in those areas ground up the vanilla beans and used them as a ceremonial incense, but not as a flavoring. It’s believed that it wasn’t until centuries later that its flavor was discovered when the Aztecs began experimenting with the dried pods, adding them to their xoclatl (the original hot chocolate).
It remained a Central and South American secret until 1520, when Spanish conquistador Hernando Cortez conquered the Aztecs. According to legend, Cortez demanded to know what was in xoclatl after he was served a mug of it by fallen emperor Montezuma. The conquistador brought the ingredients—chocolate, corn, and vanilla pods—back to his native Spain, but not before executing Montezuma.
In 1602, Hugh Morgan, apothecary to Queen Elizabeth I, started tinkering with the beans to see if they could be used as a stand-alone flavor. Supposedly, once Morgan nailed the recipe, the Queen refused to eat or drink anything not flavored with the prized bean.3 At that time, vanilla was so expensive that only royalty could afford it. That’s because no one could figure out how to pollinate the vanilla flowers in Europe, so all beans had to be imported. But in the 1836, everything changed. First, Belgian botanist Charles Morren discovered that the Melipone bee—which was native to Mexico—was integral to the flower’s ability to produce beans. Shortly thereafter, on the French island of Bourbon near Madagascar (that’s why most vanilla is known as “Bourbon vanilla”), former slave Edmond Albius discovered how to hand-pollinate the flower, and the race to cultivate vanilla took off.
How Vanilla Shakeology Came to Be
If you’ve ever had the pleasure of cutting open a vanilla bean and seen the hundreds of tiny seeds inside, it’s easy to presume that to give Shakeology vanilla-forward flavor, we’d just have to add the seeds to the recipe. Darin Olien, one of Shakeology’s chief architects, explains. “Vanilla, on its own, is not a strong flavor, whereas cacao is very dominant. You have astringent flavors in Shakeology—the adaptogens, the roots, the macas, the astragaluses—to cover them. Your average natural vanilla flavor has no chance.”
For a nutrient-packed product like Shakeology to taste like vanilla, an exceptional vanilla flavor must be used. Otherwise, the herbs and whole food ingredients drown out the vanilla essence. The trouble is that many of the strong vanilla flavors include synthetic chemicals that Beachbody can’t get behind. That’s why it’s taken so long to get it right. “In 2010, I thought we had it,” says Olien. “I had sampled dozens of decent flavors and on paper, they were approved by the FDA. But I’d get on the phone with them and ask them to tell me what was in it, and eventually, after pulling that string, I saw that synthetic additives were used.” He and CEO Carl Daikeler nixed it instantly.
Beachbody kept searching for a solution and soon found a vanilla that lived up to the reputation of Shakeology. Not only does it deliver on the extraordinary natural taste we were searching for, but also the supplier is aligned with the Beachbody ethos of sustainability and social responsibility.
The supplier starts with organic vanilla beans grown in Madagascar and works with the local community to educate the local farmers on sustainable growing methods. Their commitment to education goes beyond the farms with the building of schools in the villages where the vanilla is sourced. Plus, “we can trace the bean to exactly where it came from, all the way to the lot it was in,” says Olien. “Our suppliers are training the farmers to do it in a way that is most sustainable and efficient…and consistency of crop is one of the biggest gifts you can give a farmer.”
The Testing Phase: Fun in the Lab
Once Beachbody finally had a viable vanilla flavor, it was time to test it. Collaborating with Olien, Michael Wilson, SVP of Research and Development, and his team of scientists were able to create the great-tasting Vanilla Shakeology. This development process and rebalancing of ingredients led to more than a hundred taste tests as well as challenges to get the color “right.” As you may have noticed, Vanilla Shakeology isn’t pure white as other vanilla protein drinks out there are. Wilson explains, “That’s the protein blend, herbals, whole grains, and seeds like quinoa, chia, flax, and other natural whole food ingredients. They are what makes Shakeology work, and we need to make it all work together in harmony.” That said, some ingredients led to unexpected results. “Beta-carotene (pre-vitamin A) has a natural variation in color. When we made the first test batch in the plant, we had a reddish-orange product that we didn’t see in the lab. When you’re getting close to starting production for a very important launch and you have an orange-colored vanilla drink, it’s a little bit scary.”
They resolved that problem, and at the end of the day, Wilson’s team made sure that the texture, color, and aroma all worked together. And, most importantly, Vanilla Shakeology “lives up to what Shakeology is about, the Healthiest Meal of the Day.”
Looking to try Vanilla Shakeology? You can order it through your Team Beachbody Coach or by clicking here. And, here are 5 recipes you’ll want to try!