is a liana plant which belongs to the Orchid family, but it is the only one which is not cultivated for ornamental reasons. Known in Central America since the end of the XIII century, its pods were used to perfume a cocoa-based drink. A Tonaca (a Mexican population from the pre-Columbian era) legend tells of a young hunter who abducted a princess who was devoted to the goddess Tonacayohua. The priests managed to capture the two young people and sacrificed them to the goddess. The grass soaked in their blood dried and gave life to a bush from whose trunk grew a perfumed orchid, the innocent spirit of the girl: the orchid was vanilla which therefore originates from the blood of a princess.
In 1812 the plant arrived in the Botanical Gardens of Paris, but for many years no one discovered the secret of the pollination of its flowers which in Mexico happened thanks to insects which are present only in Central America. The problem was resolved by pollinating by hand thanks to the work done by women known as “marieuses”. This process had the effect of removing the exclusivity held by Mexico as the main producer of vanilla, which now belongs to Madagascar and Indonesia. The method, discovered by Edmond Albius is still used today. The procedure used is extremely complex and requires precision and delicacy, characteristics which make it particularly suitable for women workers. It is done manually from flower to flower and carried out in the early morning, because the flowers survive for only a few hours and in the absence of humidity which would otherwise impede flowering. All of this contributes to making vanilla a particularly precious raw material. Bourbon Vanilla from Réunion Island produces high quality pods, which need to be treated particularly carefully: the essential oil obtained is the most prestigious. Tahiti Vanilla is the fruit of a very limited production and is therefore extremely expensive. Another variety to be considered among the best is Tahitensis Vanilla, which comes from New Guinea. Each variety contributes to create different tones in fragrances.