Vanilla in Perfumes
Ancient Totonac Indians of Mexico were the first people to harvest the vanilla bean. The Totonac myth of vanilla tells a story of two forbidden lovers, an immortal princess and a mortal man who, upon being found out, were beheaded. The ground on which their blood was spilt would later mark where the tropical vine would grow.
In the 15th century, the Aztecs conquered the Totonac Indians and vanilla became a unique offering of tribute to the Aztec kings.
Eventually the Aztecs fell to the Spanish conquests and for years vanilla would be mixed with cacao to make a sweet beverage enjoyed by nobility and upper classes.
It wasn't until a way to manually pollinate vanilla plants was discovered did this pale waxy flower become a harvestable ingredient for large scale use.
In 1841, a 12-year-old slave by the name of Edmond Albius, found a way to manually pollinate the flowers. The pods holding the beans flourished and vanilla plantations were developed on Ile de Bourbon. By 1898, Madagascar, Réunion and the Comoros Islands were producing 80% of the vanilla beans in the world. This technique is still used today. In fact, nearly all vanilla is still manually pollinated by using thin pointed sticks to lift the delicate membranes that separate male and female parts of the flower and then with thumb and finger they push the segments into each other to ensure pollination.
Not only is vanilla plant pollination labour intensive but harvesting this plant is incredibly labor intensive too. As a result the cost of natural vanilla is the second most expensive spice next to saffron.
The vanilla aromas don't get revealed until the crop is cured and dried. After harvesting, vanilla beans are sorted and graded. Then blanched in hot water to halt fermentation and placed in large containers to sweat for 36 to 48 hours. It’s when the beans start to change from green to brown that the aroma starts to develop.
Vanilla is much loved for its creamy, warm, comforting, yet slightly exotic aroma. It smells delicious.