Drawing of Vanilla from the Florentine Codex (circa 1580) and description of its use and properties written in the Nahuatl language In the 15th century, Aztecs invading from the central highlands of Mexico conquered the Totonacs, and soon developed a taste for the vanilla pods. They named the fruit tlilxochitl, or "black flower", after the matured fruit, which shrivels and turns black shortly after it is picked. Subjugated by the Aztecs, the Totonacs paid tribute by sending vanilla fruit to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. Until the mid-19th century, Mexico was the chief producer of vanilla. In 1819, however, French entrepreneurs shipped vanilla fruits to the islands of Réunion and Mauritius in hopes of producing vanilla there. After Edmond Albius discovered how to pollinate the flowers quickly by hand, the pods began to thrive. Soon, the tropical orchids were sent from Réunion Island to the Comoros Islands and Madagascar, along with instructions for pollinating them. By 1898, Madagascar, Réunion, and the Comoros Islands produced 200 metric tons of vanilla beans, about 80% of world production. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Madagascar is currently responsible for the vast majority of the world's Bourbon vanilla production and 58% of the world total vanilla fruit production. The market price of vanilla rose dramatically in the late 1970s after a tropical cyclone ravaged key croplands. Prices remained high through the early 1980s despite the introduction of Indonesian vanilla. In the mid-1980s, the cartel that had controlled vanilla prices and distribution since its creation in 1930 disbanded. Prices dropped 70% over the next few years, to nearly US$20 per kilogram; prices rose sharply again after tropical cyclone Hudah struck Madagascar in April 2000. The cyclone, political instability, and poor weather in the third year drove vanilla prices to an astonishing US$500 per kilogram in 2004, bringing new countries into the vanilla industry. A good crop, coupled with decreased demand caused by the production of imitation vanilla, pushed the market price down to the $40 per kilogram range in the middle of 2005. By 2010, prices were down to US$20/per kilo. Madagascar (especially the fertile Sava region) accounts for much of the global production of vanilla. Mexico, once the leading producer of natural vanilla, with an annual 500 tons, produced only 10 tons of vanilla in 2006. An estimated 95% of "vanilla" products are artificially flavored with vanillin derived from lignin instead of vanilla fruits. Etymology
Vanilla was completely unknown in the Old World before Cortez. Spanish explorers arriving on the Gulf Coast of Mexico in the early 16th century gave vanilla its current name. Spanish and Portuguese sailors and explorers brought vanilla into Africa and Asia later that century. They called it vainilla, or "little pod". The word vanilla entered the English language in 1754, when the botanist Philip Miller wrote about the genus in his Gardener’s Dictionary. Vainilla is from the diminutive of vaina, from the Latin vagina (sheath) to describe the way the pod must be split open to expose the seeds. Biology
Main article: Vanilla (orchid)
The main species harvested for vanilla is Vanilla planifolia. Although it is native to Mexico, it is now widely grown throughout the tropics. Madagascar is the world's largest producer. Additional sources include V. pompona and V. tahitiensis (grown in Tahiti and Niue),...