Vanilla, the most popular flavor in the world, originated in Mexico. Brought to Europe about 1520 by the explorer Cortez, it was first used only in conjunction with cacao beans in a drink called Chocolatl. Since 1602 it has been enjoyed as a flavor by itself.
Vanilla beans, grown mainly in Madagascar and Indonesia, are only fruit-bearing orchids now known. Each flower, open only one day a year, must be hand pollinated to produce a pod which requires a labor intensive 3-6 month curing process to develop full flavor. About 5 pounds of harvested pods produce only one pound of cured pods.