The story of vanilla is full of cultural significance, mythology, and global enchantment. Vanilla is one of the foundational flavors of desserts around the world and is so popular, it's even considered "boring" to some. Not here, though. We at La Monarca love vanilla! In our cookies, in our coffee, in our cakes.
Vanilla's story begins in Mexico...
The Totonacas of modern-day Veracruz, México are the first to cultivate the vanilla bean from the flat-leaf Vanilla Orchid native to mesoamerica. There's even a beautiful legend illustrating the creation story of vanilla, described below. Artisans in Veracruz, namely Papantla, will still make small sculptures and crafts out of the leaves of the vanilla orchid.
In the 15th century, the Aztec Empire grew and eventually took over Totonac land, introducing the cultivation of vanilla to the empire. Called tlīlxochitl, vanilla was popularly used to flavor their famous xocolatl/xicolatl (or as you're more familiar with, hot chocolate!).
After the Spanish conquest, vanilla was first introduced to Europe and forever changed the game of dessert-making.
Queen Elizabeth I would be the first of European royalty to try an all-vanilla sweet and give the flavor a stamp of approval, but not the first of noble-blood!
Vanilla's royal story is steeped in legend...
The myth begins with the beautiful daughter of a Totonac noble, Xanath, who was visiting the temple of Chac-Mool to deliver offerings when she heard a beautiful song. She peered around a door to find a handsome young man tending to the temple, whistling to himself. Xanath loved music and introduced herself to the man, named Tzarahuin. They quickly fell in love, laughing and discussing music and art. Tzarahuin was a talented artist, musician, and craftsman but he was not a noble, and Xanath was. With no wealth or title, the two lovers would have to meet in secret though the woods.
This is where the God of Happiness found her, rushing through the trees to meet with Tzarahuin. The God of Happiness was so taken by her fragility, innocence, and beauty that he approached her multiple times. Frightened that a god would approach a humble human, she ran. Until finally, the God of Happiness confessed his love and she respectfully rejected, as her heart belonged to another.
The God of Happiness, furious he had been rejected for a peasant, was still in love and approached her father for help. Xanath's father, persuaded by gifts of wealth and knowledge, ordered Xanath to marry the god. She again, refused.
Enraged by her stubborn refusal to leave her lover, the God of Happiness transformed her into a flower. Delicate, soft, and intensely aromatic. This was the first vanilla orchid.
Tzarahuin, upon hearing what happened, approached the flower and gave up his life so that he can return as the first melipona bee, the only bee capable of pollinating the vanilla orchid.
There are many different versions of the story, most sticking to the same structure.