This might be the most-romantic story in the botanical world - the story of orchids which bloom at sunrise, only to die at twilight. According to legend the flower is as short-lived as the forbidden love of an Indian princess and a boy from the common folk. At least, that's what the Totonac Indians say. They discovered the vanilla and quickly made it into one of their favourite delicacies. They added it to the royal tincture that could be compared to today's cocoa drink. The spice was so valuable in their culture that taxes were levied on it. In the 16th Century vanilla was brought to Europe by Cortez, along with a recipe for cocoa.
Even if in reality orchid does not die so fast, the orchid bloom closes. Bees and hummingbirds have only one day to pollinate it. In the 19th Century people learnt how to pollinate vanilla, which made things a little bit easier. A little bit. The process is done by hand and is very time-consuming, which explains the high price of the spice.
Vanilla is one of the world's most expensive spices. Indeed, it is so pricey that planters prick distinguishing marks on their pods to prevent them from being stolen. The effort pays off. Vanilla has multiple culinary and cosmetic applications. It's hard to imagine desserts, ice cream and cakes without vanilla flavour and many vanilla beauty products have reached a cult status.