Chickoree Knoll

Purveyors of Extracts,
Home Goods, and
Wood Crafts

The history of Vanilla is fascinating!  I can probably go on and on about the history but I'll attempt to sum it up!!  The vanilla bean is a product of an orchid.....yes, a flower!  Now here's the amazing thing!  The flower only blooms for 24 hours!  During that time is when the flower MUST be pollinated in order to create a bean.  Miss the 24 hour pollination window and nothing happens!  In Mexico, where vanilla originated, there was only a certain bee and a long beaked humming bird who could pollinate the orchid in order to create the bean. 

So how do those little bees (and at times, long beaked humming birds) supply the world with pollinated orchids to make a vanilla bean?  They don't!  In order to make the demands of vanilla, they attempted to transplant vines AND bees (they weren't exactly thrilled with that process) to other parts of the world but the magic that occurred in Mexico could not be replicated elsewhere.  Hmmm, well, what to do?  Leave it to a child to figure out what could work!  In the late 1800s, a 12 year old slave named Edmund Albius paved the way in order to have the cultivation of vanilla reach other parts of the world.  He created a quick and simple way to hand pollinate the flowers.  Smart kid!  With that figured out, places such as Madagascar (now the top exporter of Vanilla), Indonesia, India, Puerto Rico, and the West Indies have been able to cultivate the now high-in-demand vanilla bean. 

Oh, and here's another interesting tidbit.....vanilla beans taste differently depending on where they are cultivated.  For example, Madagascar Bourbon (no, not made from Bourbon but named for the origin in Madagascar) has a taste and smell that is creamy, full, strong, and rich!  When I get the Bourbon beans, the smell is dreamy as this is the most well-known for extracts.  The other popular vanilla bean for extracts is the Tahitian which has a more sweet and fruity (with a touch of floral) taste. 

Regardless of the growth in vanilla production around the world, it's still the 2nd most expensive spice behind Saffron!!  Mostly because it is such a labor intensive process (watching for the flower to bloom, pollinate, hand-pick the beans, curing process, wrapped, then dried) which could take up to 4-6 months!  Holy 'nilla bean!!

There is a plethora of information online if you want to do some more research!!!