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 has been used by Totomaniacs 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 deal was changed at the turn of the XNUMXth century thanks to a man who would have become rich if he had not been a slave on the island of Reunion. It was thanks to his genius that his "owners" were enriched, as were all the owners of the vanilla plantation. Indeed, vanilla flowers are hermaphrodites in the wild, they need to reproduce the melipona bee or a hummingbird, these animals being endemic to Central America and unable to adapt to others regions. At the time, the colonists thought 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.
Edmond was born a slave in 1829 to the owner of Sainte-Suzanne who tore the child from his mother's arms to offer it as a gift to his brother, Ferréol Beaumont Bellier, also an 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 remunerated 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 the vanilla in the world sold worldwide is derived from Mexican vanilla, classified under the genus VANILLA. It is a liana of the orchid family, the only edible orchid known.
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: originating in Mexico and by far the most marketed in Madagascar, Reunion, ect. (Bourbon vanilla etc…)
- 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.
- VANILLA POMPONA, or Vanillon, with a larger and shorter pod, very rare here and only traded locally, wherever it grows in the wild, from Mexico to Brazil.
- 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.