Europeans brought vanilla back from Central America. Aztecs used to flavour their cocoa baverage called xocoatl. For three hundred years, botanists all over the world tried to cultivate the orchid and failed: vanilla flower would never turn into a fruit. They weren’t aware that it needed its natural pollinator, a bee endemic from its native area.
In 1841 a 12-year old slave with a tremendous sense of observation discovered the technique for hand pollinating vanilla, same technique that is still used today. From then vanilla was cultivated in Reunion island, Mauritius and the Comoros.
When vanilla pod is harvested eight months later, it is green and flavourless. Its during the process of curing that was developped on Reunion island the pods will develop their aroma. It includes killing it with hot water, sweating, drying in the sun and then in wooden boxes for eight months.
The production of vanilla requires huge manpower. Each step of the process is performed by hand, from the pollination flower by flower to the conditionning. During the drying each pod is examinated every month and removed if mouldy.
Madagascar thanks to an ideal climate and soil and cheap labor became the biggest world producer (about 60% of world production). Vanilla prices are strongly linked to cyclones in Madagascar. Other countries also developped vanilla crops such as Indonesia and Mexico and more recently China, Kerala (India) and Uganda. Tahiti and Reunion island vanilla are known for their high quality and price for they are small productions.
|Vanilla flower||Vanilla crops||Drying|
|Photo: Bouba||Photo: Bouba|