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Did You Know? - Vanilla by Teresa Kendrick © 2006

Did you know that the vanilla bean is from an aromatic orchid that originally came from Mexico?

The Academy of Sciences and Gastronomic Arts in Paris were so taken with the fruit of this orchid, that in 1921 they paid homage to the anonymous Mexican Indians who discovered it and put it to various uses.

Originally found in the Huasteca region of Mexico, it was known to the Olmecs and their descendants, the Totonacas who called it xanat. These people used the bean to add flavor and aroma to their cocoa and corn drinks and mixed it with their copal incense and tobacco to create sweet-smelling blends.

Vanilla flavored tobacco is a very, very old mixture. When the Aztecs dominated this area of Mexico just before the arrival of the Spaniards, they called vanilla " tlilxochil" or " flor negra" (the black flower).

When the Spaniards learned of the plant and its delicious-smelling fruit from the Indians, they called it " vainilla", because the word in Spanish for 'pod' (the shape of the bean) is " vaina". The Spanish exported it to the rest of the world and by the 1700’s vanilla was cultivated in areas of Asia and Africa, which was a great blow to Mexico’s vanilla industry.

Later when scientists learned to make it chemically, the industry shriveled as imitation vanilla became available throughout the world.

Today, the world’s largest crop, however, still comes from Papantla in Veracruz.

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Published or Updated on: January 1, 2006 by Teresa Kendrick © 2008
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