Move aside chocolate. Vanilla has all the ingredients to incite passion - delicate fragrance and sweet flavour.
7/11/2014 3:05:31 PM
|written By : Nithya Subramanian|
There is nothing plain about vanilla. ‘Plain vanilla’ - a term frequently used by financial experts to describe a product that is not complicated or exotic (low risk) is quite contrary to the exoticism or romance associated with the real bean. Ask any chef. The real thing is a much sought-after ingredient that lends a sweet flavour and fragrance to any sweet dish.
Perhaps, it is because of its common usage, and the abundant availability of cheap artificial flavourings, that vanilla is under-rated. But it is said to have the most complex flavours, containing over 200 flavour compounds. While vanillin is the principle compound that gives it flavour, smell and taste, there are several others that add nuance to its flavour. Due to the labour intensive nature of cultivation, harvest and processing, it is second only to saffron in cost.
Vanilla is also known to possess aphrodisiacal properties and this could be attributed to the legend behind the orchid, which traces the love story between a noble and a peasant. Xanath, the lovely daughter of a family of Totonac nobleman, was betrothed to the god of Happiness by her father. But she fell in love with a handsome and strong, young artist called Tzarahuin. This enraged the fat god of happiness transformed Xanath into a feeble, delicate plant, with lovely white flowers and an intoxicating smell. When Tzarahuin found out what had happened to his beloved, he took his own life, at the foot of the plant. But it is believed that he comes back every spring in the form of a humble melipona bee and spends hours tenderly circling around the petals of the vanilla flower, making love to his Xanath. Hence till the discovery of hand pollination, bees were responsible for this process.
Historically, the ancient Totonaco Indians of south-eastern Mexico were the first people to discover the secret of vanilla. They believed vanilla was a food of the Gods. When the Aztecs conquered the Totonaco, they adopted many of their beliefs. Vanilla had been enjoyed by the Aztecs for hundreds of years before their emperor Montezuma welcomed the Spanish explorer Cortés with a golden goblet containing a chocolate drink flavoured with ‘tlilxochiti’ – a black vanilla pod.
Soon it travelled to Europe where it was called it ‘vaynilla’ – meaning ‘little pod’ or ‘scabbard’, a reference to the shape of the dried vanilla bean.