The mysterious Orchid

The term "vanilla" comes from the Spanish "vaina", which means "pod". Vanilla comes from vanilla, a climbing plant from humid tropical climates belonging to the orchid family. Native to Mexico, where it was "discovered", or to be more exact "imported" by the conquistadors. Yet it had been used by the Totomacs for millennia.

The vanilla pods were thus brought back to Europe to try to cultivate it, but without success. For over 100 years, all the vanilla sold in Europe therefore came exclusively from Mexico.

However, the situation was changed at the turn of the XNUMXth century thanks to a man who would have become rich had he not been a slave on Reunion Island. It is thanks to his genius that his "owners" got rich, as well as all the owners of vanilla plantation. Indeed, vanilla flowers are hermaphroditic in the wild, they need a melipona bee or a hummingbird to reproduce, these animals being endemic to Central America and unable to adapt to others. regions. At the time, settlers believed that the Aztecs had cast a spell on vanilla and that for this reason, vanilla no longer produced fruit. 

It was not until 1841 that Edmond Albius discovered the process of fertilization of vanilla, nicely called "marriage" between the male and female organs.

Until that time, the vanilla orchid was only an ornamental plant in Reunion called the melipona, because the vanilla pollinating hummingbird did not live on the island.


Edmond was born a slave in 1829 to an owner in Sainte-Suzanne who tore the child from his mother's arms to give it as a gift to his brother, Ferréol Beaumont Bellier, also owner in Sainte-Suzanne and passionate about botany. Ferréol Beaumont Bellier makes him his gardener and explains to him how to maintain his garden. 

At 12, Edmond managed to produce vanilla pods in his master's garden to his surprise. No one had previously successfully fertilized vanilla. The young slave then explains the simple and very reliable method of manual pollination of Vanilla. The news made a lot of noise and the method was adopted by many planters. Reunion Island will start producing vanilla and exporting it. However, cSince he was a slave and child, his discovery gave rise to many controversies, and the authorship of his discovery was disputed even after his death. The writings of his master testify today that it is this young slave who is the source of the fortune of many planters.

His slave status does not allow him to be recognized and paid for his discovery, after his emancipation 1848 , he becomes like the other former slaves, free but poor and without education. Since the former slaves finally have a civil status, the young Edmond is given the patronymic of Albius, in reference to the white color Alba of the vanilla flower. He then became a cook with a garrison officer. His discovery having brought him nothing, he died in misery in 1880 at Sainte-Suzanne.

Reunion quickly became a region known for its vanilla. Reunion Island (during the Bourbon era) even giving its name to the famous Vanilla bourbon internationally renowned, then presented for strategic reasons, as the best vanilla in the world, and turning its back on Aztec vanilla.

Vanilla consumed worldwide

Almost all of the world's vanillas traded in the world are derived from Mexican vanilla, classified under the genus VANILLA. It is a liana from the orchid family, the only known edible orchid.

There are several hundred species of the genus VANILLA, but only five are currently cultivated to produce the pods that we consume, some being the subject of intense marketing, others, less known, are mainly consumed locally in certain Central and South America regions.

  • VANILLA PLANIFOLIA: originally from Mexico and by far the most marketed in Madagascar, Reunion, ect. (Bourbon vanilla etc ...)
Vanilla Planifolia
  • VANILLA x TAHITENSIS, this hybrid developed in Tahiti to fight root melt in Polynesian volcanic lands, was made, it is supposed, from vanilla planifolia and another non-commercial species, probably vanilla odorata which was present in the colonies as an ornamental plant.

  • VANILLA X COSTARITENSIS, a cross between planifolia and Pompona, a giant vanilla developed in Costa Rica, also to resist the acidity of volcanic soil.

Costaritensis

Giant Costa Roca
  • VANILLA POMPONA, or Vanilla, with a larger, shorter pod, very rare here and only traded locally, wherever it grows in the wild, from Mexico to Brazil.
Pompona
  • VANILLA CHAMISSONIS commercially named CERRADO (or Kalunga), a vanilla related to the Pompona used by the Kalunga peoples in the Cerrado region of Brazil. This vanilla is the new darling in Bresilia and Rio de Janeiro.

 Chamissoni