The world’s most popular flavour is the vanilla flavour. It is derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla, primarily from the Mexican species flat-leafed vanilla, Vanilla planifola. It used to be grown only inMexico because of the agent of pollination; local species of Melipona bee. But in 1841, Edmond Albius, a 12year old slave who lived on the Frenchisland ofReunion in theIndian ocean, discovered that the plant could be hand pollinated. This therefore encouraged global cultivation of the plant.
The breakthrough of 1841 which encouraged global cultivation of vanilla ensured that the plant got toCosmosIslandsandMadagascar. By 1898, Reunion (where the breakthrough was made),CosmosIslands, andMadagascarproduced 200 metric tons of vanilla beans, about 80% of world production.Madagascaralone is currently responsible for the vast majority of the world’s bourbon vanilla production and 58% of the world total vanilla bean production (UN Food & Agricultural Organization).
The history of vanilla can be traced back to the Totnac people who inhabit theMazatlanValleyon theMexicoGulfCoastin the present day state ofVeracruz. According to Totnac mythology, the tropical orchid was born when princess Xanat, forbidden by her father from marrying a mortal, fled to the forest with her lover. The lovers were captured and beheaded. Where their blood touched the ground, the vine of the tropical orchid grew.
The market price of vanilla rose dramatically in the late 1970s after a tropical cyclone ravaged key croplands. In the mid 1980s however, the cartel that had controlled vanilla prices and distribution since 1930 disbanded. Prices dropped 70% over the next few years to nearly $20 per Kg. prices rose sharply again after tropical cyclone Hudah struckMadagascarin April 2000. The price rose to $500 per Kg in 2004 due to the cyclone, political instability, and poor weather. Decreased demand caused by the production of imitation vanilla pushed the market price down to the $40 per Kg range in the middle of 2005. By 2010, prices were down to $20 per kilo.
A major use of vanilla is flavouring ice cream. Other uses include medicinal, aphrodisiac, perfume, dieting, aromatherapy, baking, etc. Although aphrodisiac and aromatherapy are classified as medicinal uses, the medicinal use of vanilla goes deeper than that. Vanilla was able to block quorum sensing in bacteria in an in-vitro test. The divine taste and creamy smell of vanilla has impressed it on the world as its most popular and favourite flavour.