Vanilla, Magic of an orchid
Shrouded in mystique, vanilla, the “queen of spices” has a long history of intrigue, adventure and magic. Legend has it that the Aztec emperor Montezuma welcomed the conquistador Hernan Cortez with xocolãtl, a vanilla flavoured chocolate beverage, served in golden goblets. The symbol of an entire aromatic tradition, its tale begins in the era of the Mayas and Aztecs, after which it found its way to Europe, to Bourbon Island (now Reunion), before finally being introduced to Madagascar where it has flourished for over 180 years.
An attractive climbing creeper belonging to the orchid family, Vanilla Planifolia is the only orchid whose fruit is edible. It requires a support plant to create shade and grows in the damp undergrowth of tropical rainforests. Its fruits, referred to as beans, resemble large green haricot beans. They grow in bunches on the creeper and are harvested when ripe, before undergoing a long curing process, to become a highly prized spice.
The beans are left to dry for several months during which time countless flavour molecules are released during the enzymatic fermentation, generating the distinctive vanilla fragrance. Six kilos of green beans are needed to produce one kilo of black beans ready for use...