Is Vanilla an Aphrodisiac or a Myth? Some foods are considered aphrodisiacs not because of their qualities as food, but for their symbolic shapes. This is not the case with Vanilla bean; in fact Vanilla is known to have a euphoric effect on the brain power. Some research suggests the aroma of Vanilla increases blood flow to male genitalia.
Vanilla planifolia, is grown as a perennial herbaceous vine to a height of 4- 5 meters. Because it is a vine, it needs the support of trees or poles. It takes up to 3 years or so to flower. These large white flowers have a deep narrow trumpet that develops into a long green pod (12 -15 cm long) and looks like a big green bean. Planifolia is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla native to Mexico. Etymologically, Vanilla derives from the Spanish word “Vainilla”, little pod. Originally cultivated by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican peoples, Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes is credited with introducing both Vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s.
Attempts to cultivate the Vanilla plant outside Mexico and Central America proved futile because of the symbiotic relationship between the tlilxochitl vine that produced the Vanilla orchid and the local species of Melipona bee; it was not until 1837 that Belgian botanist Charles Francois Antoine Morren discovered this fact and pioneered a method of artificially pollinating the plant. The method proved financially unworkable and was not deployed commercially. In 1841, a 12-year-old French-owned slave by the name of Edmond Albius, who lived on Île Bourbon, discovered the plant could be hand pollinated, allowing global cultivation of the plant.
In the fifteenth century, Aztecs invading from the central highlands of Mexico conquered the Totonacs, and soon developed a taste for the Vanilla bean. They named the bean “tlilxochitl”, or “black flower”, after the mature bean, which shrivels and turns black shortly after it is picked. Subjugated by the Aztecs, the Totonacs paid tribute by sending Vanilla beans to the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan. Until the mid-19th century, Mexico was the chief producer of Vanilla. Thomas Jefferson is credited with Vanilla’s arrival in the United States. When he returned from his ambassadorship in France in 1789, he was dismayed to discover that no one in the States knew about Vanilla, so he wrote his French attache requesting that he send him 50 Vanilla pods.
Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron, due to the extensive labor required to grow the Vanilla seed pods. It is interesting to note that Vanilla is the only orchid found anywhere that produces edible fruits. 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.
Fluffy Mock Cream
Makes 2 cups
2 tbs milk
1/3 cup water
1 cup caster sugar (superfine)
1 tsp gelatine
2 tbs water, extra
250g (8.8oz) butter, softened
1/2 vanilla extract (I added the seeds from half a pod as well)
Combine milk, the water and sugar in a small saucepan; stir over low heat, without boiling until sugar is dissolved. Sprinkle gelatine over extra water in cup, add to pan; stir syrup until gelatine is dissolved. Cool to room temperature. Beat butter and extract in an electric mixer until as white as possible. While mixer is still running, gradually pour in cold syrup; beat until light and fluffy. Mixture will thicken on standing.