Since everyone loves vanilla, we should all know where it comes from and how it is made, right? Well, in case you are like most people (you're not quite sure), here is a little history on the origin and evolution of what has become today's vanilla.
the (really) early years
When, in turn, the Aztecs were defeated by the conquering Spaniard, Hernando Cortez, he returned to Spain with the precious plunder - vanilla beans - which were combined with cacao to make an unusual and pleasing drink. For eighty years, this special beverage was only enjoyed by the nobility and the very rich. Then, in 1602, Hugh Morgan, apothecary to Queen Elizabeth I, suggested that vanilla could be used as a flavoring all by itself, and the versatility of the exotic bean was finally uncovered.
vanilla we all know and love
Indonesia is the second largest producer of vanilla, with a vanilla that is woody, astringent and phenolic. Madagascar and Indonesia produce 90 percent of the world's vanilla bean crop. Mexico, where the vanilla orchid originated, now produces only a small percentage of the harvest. Mexican vanilla is described as creamy, sweet, smooth and spicy. The last of the four major vanilla-producing regions is Tahiti. Tahitian vanilla, grown from a different genus of vanilla orchid, is flowery and fruity, anisic and smooth.
Vanilla, with its wide range of flavor profiles, can be applied to a vast
array of products. It is one of the most widely used flavors in the world,
particularly in ice cream. It finds its way into sauces in Mexico and
cookies in Sweden. Vanilla flavors fruits in Polynesia and perfumes colognes
in Paris. Anywhere there is a need for a mellow accent that compliments
sweet and savory, plain and fancy, vanilla is there.