Vanilla, The (Really)
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
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
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.
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
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
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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