The long history of the world’s most popular flavor begins in Mexico nearly 900 years ago. It was there that the Totonac Indians are believed to have cultivated the vanilla orchid indigenous to the tropical areas of Mexico and Latin America around 1115. According to Totonac mythology, the tropical orchid was born when Princess Xanat, forbidden by her father from marrying a mortal, fled to the forest with her lover. The lovers were captured and beheaded. Where their blood touched the ground, the vine of the tropical orchid grew (Hazen 1995).
When the Aztecs conquered the Totonacs in 1427, they discovered the essence of the black vanilla pod brought in flavoring and medicinal value to their culture. They were the first to use both vanilla and cocoa together to help with the flavor of their foods and drinks, often mixing them together. The mixture was much like our “hot chocolate” but they called it “xocolatl.” It is said that Aztec Emperor, Montezuma – was quoted saying xocolatl is a “Divine drink, which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits a man to walk for a whole day without food.”
In 1519, it is believed that Hernando Cortes was served a beverage mixture of cocoa and vanilla by Aztec Emperor Montezuma, the xocolatl. Both flavors were so well received by the Spanish conqueror that he brought the cocoa and vanilla beverage back to Europe as a treasure from the New World. Europeans quickly fell in love with vanilla and found that it could be used in a wide variety of recipes and beverages. They imported the cured vanilla beans from Mexico until the mid-1800s as a luxury spice for the elite class.  The name vanilla came from the Spanish word vainilla, meaning “little pod” (Ackerman 2003). This evergreen genus Vanilla occurs worldwide in tropical and subtropical regions, from tropical America to tropical Asia, New Guinea, and West Africa.
“Vanilla Fun Facts.” Rodelle, http://rodellekitchen.com/learn-vanilla-baking/vanilla-fun-facts. (Accessed April 2020).
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The fruit (“vanilla bean”) is an elongate, fleshy seed pod 10-25 centimeters long. It ripens gradually (8 to 9 months after flowering), eventually turning black in color and giving off a strong aroma. Each pod contains thousands of minute seeds, but it is the pod that is used to create vanilla flavoring. Significantly, Vanilla planifolia is the only orchid used for industrial purposes (in the food industry and in the cosmetic industry).