Bourbon Vanilla
Bourbon Vanilla

Flavors of Reunion Island

All about vanilla > Bourbon Vanilla

Residents of Reunion Island are convinced that the Bourbon vanilla from their island is the most flavorful in the world, and they may be right. In Reunion, a relatively small amount of vanilla is produced (compared to neighboring Madagascar, for example), but what they do make is made according to the highest standards to create a full-flavored and aromatic vanilla. Let's go over in a few words the history of this orchid, originally from central America and known to the Aztecs as  tlilxochitl: They used it to flavor cocoa drinks. The Spanish imported "vaynilla" ("little seed") in the 16th century. By the 17th century, all of Europe was mad about this black pod. 

But the plants that were imported and raised in greenhouses in Europe remained sterile, much to the dismay of botanists who wanted to grasp the secret of this capricious belle. And it was in Reunion, where it was introduced in 1819, that the plant finally capitulated. It was sterile because the little Mexican bee that pollinated the plants hadn't crossed the ocean with the orchid. But in 1841, on the plantation of a certain Monsieur Bellier, the young slave Edmond Albius used a stylet to "marry" the two parts of the flower: that solved it, and from then on vanilla planifolia (the species found in Reunion), vanilla pompona and vanilla tahitensis could be cultivated.

One peculiarity of Reunion's Creole cooking is to use vanilla more widely than is usually done in the city. Thus its aromatic flavor is added to a number of main course dishes, such as trout or duck. Madame Hannibal, a famous restaurant owner in Bras-Panon, built a solid gastronomic reputation on her vanilla duck, a curry that Indians would certainly find very odd!

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