I find the history of food interesting. Sometimes I wonder just how something came to be considered as food. I mean, why did someone decide to eat a cactus (nopalitos)? Or pufferfish (fugu)? Or sheep’s innards (haggis)?
Some items have had an international impact, like spices and flavorings. Take vanilla, for example. Here is the text from the back book cover, Vanilla, The Cultural History of the World’s Favorite Flavor and Fragrance (2004) by Patricia Rain.
Did you know that:
- More than half the desserts sold worldwide contain vanilla?
- Ninety-seven percent of the vanilla used as a flavor or a fragrance is synthetic, because vanilla is so much in demand and so expensive?
- Vanilla is so expensive, in part, because the demand often greatly exceeds the supply? About 1,400 tons of dried vanilla are produced worldwide each year, while the annual demand varies between 1,600 and 2,200 tons.
- Vanilla has a long history of robbery? In Madagascar, vanilla rustling is so great a problem that beans are often branded.
- Vanilla is the only fruit of the orchid family, the largest family of flowering plants in the world?
- Vanilla is the most labor-intensive agricultural crop in the world? It takes up to three years after vines are planted before the first flowers appear, and the fruit must remain on the vine for nine months before it can be harvested.
- When vanilla beans are harvested, they have neither flavor nor scent? These distinctive properties develop only during the long curing process.
So, back to my wondering about how food items came about. Someone looked at the vanilla bean, smelled it (and smelled nothing), tasted it (and tasted nothing), and decided, “Hey, I think I can make something with this.”