For centuries, vanilla beans (pods) have been one of the most familiar flavours, fundamental to western cuisine. Commonly used to flavour desserts, beverages, milk products and coffee, vanilla is one of the most loved flavours of the western palate.
It is believed, the Totonaca people of Mexico were the first cultivators of vanilla, during MesoAmerican times. They believed this exotic fruit had been bestowed upon them by the Gods, and continue to cultivate vanilla today.
In the 14th century, the Spanish conquistadors under Cortez, watched Montezuma, Emperor of the Aztecs, pulverize vanilla beans, combine them with chocolate and serve it as a drink in golden goblets to his most honoured guests. The Spanish caught on quickly and by the middle of the 15th century, were importing it to Europe to use as a flavour in the manufacture of chocolate.
As European explorers and their attendant botanical recorders and collectors combed the forests of Central and South America, vanilla beans became more common in Europe. Europeans followed the example of the tribes in the New World and used vanilla beans in the production of medicine, as a nerve stimulant and as an aphrodisiac. They also invented a few of their own uses, including the flavouring of another New World product, tobacco.
By the early 1800’s vanilla plants were growing in botanical collections in Germany and France. Horticulturists were experimenting with conditions for its growth. From Europe it was transported to Reunion, Mauritius and the Malagasy Republic. In the new tropical colonies, slave labour discovered that hand pollination of the flowers was necessary to produce vanilla beans.
From these points, vanilla plants were taken to Indonesia, the Seychelles, and the Comoros Islands. At approximately the same time, vanilla was introduced as a crop in Martinique and Guadeloupe in the Caribbean.
Today, vanilla beans grows within 20 degrees north and south of the Equator in the tropical regions of the world.
Madagascar and Indonesia grow the majority of the world’s vanilla beans. Other countries around the Pacific rim which grow and supply vanilla to the world include Papua New Guinea, Tahiti, Philippines, Fiji, Tonga, India, China, Guatemala and Costa Rica.
Raw 'Hot' Chocolate
- Add 1 tblespn raw cacao powder to a large cup & mix to a runny paste with cold water
- Fill the cup with hot water
- Add a large knob of raw cacao butter
- Sweeten to taste with agave or yacon syrup
- Add a vanilla bean, ground or whole cinnamon, cloves to taste