Vanilla, The (Really) Early Years

It is the ancient Totonaco Indians of Mexico who were the first keepers of the secrets of vanilla. When they were defeated by the Aztecs, they were demanded to relinquish their exotic fruit of the Tlilxochitl vine, vanilla pods. When, in turn, the Aztecs were defeated by the conquering Spaniard, Hernando Cortez, he returned to Spain with the precious plunder - vanilla beans - which were combined with cacao to make an unusual and pleasing drink.

For eighty years, this special beverage was only enjoyed by the nobility and the very rich. Then, in 1602, Hugh Morgan, apothecary to Queen Elizabeth I, suggested that vanilla could be used as a flavoring all by itself, and the versatility of the exotic bean was finally uncovered.

 

Today’s Vanilla We All Know and Love

Today, Vanilla beans are grown in many areas of the world. Each region produces vanilla beans with distinctive characteristics and attributes.

Mexico, where the vanilla orchid originated, now produces only a small percentage of the harvest. Mexican vanilla is described as creamy, sweet, smooth and spicy.

Vanilla, with its wide range of flavor profiles, can be applied to a vast array of products. It is one of the most widely used flavors in the world, particularly in ice cream. It finds its way into sauces in Mexico and cookies in Sweden. Vanilla flavors fruits in Polynesia and perfumes colognes in Paris. Anywhere there is a need for a mellow accent that compliments sweet and savory, plain and fancy, vanilla is there.

 

The Legend Of Vanilla

In the times of Totonaca king, Tenitzill the third, one of his wives gave birth to a girl who was named Tzacopontziza (Morning Star) for her unique beauty. To keep such a beauty away from the eyes of men her life was devoted to the goddess Tonacayohua, protector of seed whose rituals were carried away by young women who made chastity votes since childhood.

A young prince, Zcotan-oxga (Young deer), was infatuated with Morning Star; through he knew such a sacrilege was punished by death. One day, when the princess was coming out of the temple, Zcotan-oxga kidnapped her and ran away to the steepest side of the mountain. After a short trail, some priests found them and slew them both before they could utter a single word.

After a time of bush sprouted in the place where they were sacrificed. In a few days, the bush was covered with leaves. Next to it, a climbing orchid started to grow with astounding speed; its emerald leaves lay firmly and gently over the stem of the bush, just as a bride lies in the arms of her lover.

One morning, tiny flowers sprang and an overwhelming aroma covered the place. Drawn by such a prodigy, priest and people in town were convinced that the blood of the prince and princess had turned into the bush and the orchid. People were sure of it when the tiny flowers turned into long and slim pods, which gave out a delicate but penetrating perfume when mature, as if the innocent soul of Morning Star quintessence the most exquisite fragrances in it.

The orchid was declared sacred plant devoted to the cult of love and was raised as holy offer to the Totonaca Gods. That was how the blood of a princess turned into vanilla xanath or caxixanath (hidden flower) in Totonaca language (black flower) in Nahuatl language.

 

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