Vanilla: The Spice that is Not a Spice
Have you ever wondered where ingredients of the food you eat come from? Vanilla is part of the Orchid Family, botanically speaking, but to most people, it belongs in the sweet category (“Vanilla, the Spice”). People most commonly associate vanilla with desserts, ice cream, and other sweet treats, but vanilla can be used as a fragrance and medically (“Vanilla Beans”). While there are over 110 different varieties of vanilla, only two are used commercially. These two are Bourbon Vanilla and Tahitian Vanilla (“Vanilla Facts”). The vanilla plant, which after being planted, flowers and produces long beans, is planted with coffee, cashews, avocados, and other tropical tree crops (“Vanilla”). From these beans, Bourbon Vanilla and Tahitian Vanilla both have specific origins, while sharing similar production techniques.
According to the Boston Vanilla Company’s website, around 1000 A.D., the Totonaca tribe of southeastern Mexico was the only people to possess the special vanilla bean. Eventually, this changed. The Totonaca tribe was conquered by the Aztecs. They too, recognized the uniqueness of the vanilla bean. The Aztecs, along with the Totonaca tribe, thought “the vanilla bean was the food of the gods” (“Vanilla Beans”). Then, in 1518, the Aztecs were defeated by the Spanish Conquistador, Hernando Cortez (“History”). He was “served a drink of cacao flavored with vanilla called tlilxochitl” (“Vanilla Beans”). While being captivated by vanilla’s aroma and flavor, Cortez was determined to deliver this treasure to Spain (“Vanilla Beans”). “For eighty years, [only] the nobility and the very rich” enjoyed such an opulent and elegant drink (“History”).
The Boston Vanilla Bean Company tells us for many years, Mexico remained the only producer of vanilla. This changed in the early 1800’s when “the French took cuttings of the vanilla orchid to the King’s garden in Saint-Denis on lle de La Reunion” (“Vanilla Beans”)....