How vanilla became popular in the world

It is not native to Madagascar, even though this country dominates its global trade. The use of the plant began in the jungles of Mexico and Central America. And its million-dollar industry exists thanks to a 12-year-old slave boy who lived 180 years ago on a remote island in the Indian Ocean. This is the story of how vanilla became popular in the world.

How did vanilla become popular in the world?
How did vanilla become popular in the world?

The discoverer

The Aztecs used vanilla to flavor xocoatl, the drink they produced from cocoa and other spices. In the conquest, the Spanish took it across the Atlantic to Spain. Soon, European colonial powers were scrambling to get their hands on the pods. But the world's vanilla production did not leave America. There was no success when planting it elsewhere. They did not produce fruit.
Vanilla requires a specific type of bee that is only found in tropical regions of America. But at the end of 1841 something happened in Bourbon that cast doubt on those assumptions. Planter Ferréol Bellier-Beaumont walked through his field with a 12-year-old slave boy named Edmond. And he noticed two vanilla fruits on a vine, according to what Ecot writes in his book. How could this be? Edmond discovered that each vanilla orchid (vanilla planifolia) has male and female parts. He divides them with a membrane to prevent self-pollination. The boy picked up a nearby flower and spread the lip of the orchid with his finger. He lifted the membrane with a stick and pressed the female and male parts. This is how the fruits could be produced.

Vanilla is a million-dollar industry.
Vanilla is a million-dollar industry.

artificial vanilla

How did vanilla become popular in the world? It was thanks to Edmond. While his discovery was recognized, he died in poverty, without enjoying the benefits of his discovery. Today, Mexico's production represents just 5% of the trade in natural vanilla beans. Artificial vanilla arrived at the end of the 19th century. Only 1% of the market is supplied with natural vanilla.
Those who market natural vanilla – even in Mexico – have adopted the manual pollination method. Every vanilla plant grown in the world is now hand-pollinated.

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