The History Of Vanilla
Vanilla (V. Tahitensis and V. Planifolia) is a wonderfully spicy and sweet flavouring. Created from the vanilla orchid which is one of only a few edible orchids in the world.
It has long been recognised that vanilla is a New World plant and that it was likely first cultivated by the Maya around 14th century AD. The Maya civilization developed in the area that today comprises southeastern Mexico, all of Guatemala and Belize, and the western portions of Honduras and El Salvador.
How did it come to be that V. tahitensis is located so far away from its original source? Recent genetic studies identified V. tahitensis as a hybrid of Vanilla Planifolia and V. odorata, both plants tended by the Maya.
Images below taken in Madagascar during the Vanilla curing/drying process:
A clip of Vanilla beans being transported down the Mananara River in Madagascar:
Vanilla is the second most expensive spice available today (just after saffron). The curing process takes between 6-9 months and involves several labour-intensive heating and drying processes. The Maya word for vanilla is zizbic, and it was used with copal resin as incense, and to treat insect bites and heal wounds. The Aztecs are thought to be the first to use vanilla in conjunction with the cacao bean to make the chocolate drink.
It was the Spanish who took vanilla to the rest of the world, most likely part of the Pacific Ocean Manila Galleon trade through the Philippine Islands. In Mesoamerica, shipments of vanilla could have come from southern Chiapas, Guatemala, and El Salvador. There is no explicit mention of vanilla trade in the records of the Manila Galleon, but there is a listed ‘Vanilla of Guatemala’ in an 1837 botanical treatise of the Philippines.
Using Vanilla in food
Vanilla can complement a great deal of food types. You can see sample recipes on our website that utilises both Vanilla Pods & Vanilla Extracts including:
Any questions, please get in touch via the contact page.