Originating from Mexico on the Gulf of Mexico coast, the Totonac Indians was indeed the first who cultivated this bean. They used it especially for medical purposes such as; venomous bite, cough, stomach pains and congestion. Later, the Aztecs then conquered the Totonacans and took over the growth of the orchids in the 15th century. The Aztecs by then developed the fermentation process of sweating and drying the beans to develop the vanillin. They used vanilla to flavour their cocoa drinks called "xocolatl’’ which symbolised the drink of the gods.
Up till centuries, Mexico was the only producer of Vanilla where only a bee found in certain regions of Mexico would pollinate the Vanilla flower. But, in 1517, when a Spaniard named, Hernan Cortes landed on Veracruz; he met Emperor Moctezuma (an Aztecs emperor) who served him a drink called tlilxochitl made by cacao and vanilla. Very soon after, he returned back to Spain in 1528 with vanilla and cacao. Because of price and rarity this unusual and pleasing drink vanilla became an exclusive club of the rich and famous of the time. Spain guarded the secrets of this drink for about 100 years. Unfortunately, though they tried to cultivate vanilla orchid in Europe, the plant would simply grow and flower, but no pods would grew because of the lack of the small bee native from Mexico and due to the fact that self pollinated vanilla flowers produces sterile seeds.
However in 1841, a 12 year old slave name Edmond Albius from Reunion Island, discovered the very way of hand pollination which is still practise now. After having exported about 50 pods of vanilla to France, cuttings were then sent to the neighbouring Islands because of an explosive demand in the European countries for vanilla flavouring. The orchid was planted on various Indian Ocean islands so as to repeat the process. Vanilla began to flourish on tropical islands like Mauritius, Madagascar, Reunion Island and...