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I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet

History of Vanilla

Vanilla is the only edible fruit of the orchid family, the largest family of flowering plants in the world. It’s a tropical orchid, and there are more than 150 varieties of vanilla, though only two types – Bourbon and Tahitian — are used commercially.

Vanilla grows within the 20-degree band either side of the Equator and is native to the Americas. The vanilla you know best, Vanilla planifolia (also known as fragrans), traditionally grew wild on the Atlantic Gulf side of Mexico from Tampico around to the northeast tip of South America, and from Colima, Mexico to Ecuador on the Pacific side. It also grew throughout the Caribbean.

The Olmeca people on the Gulf Coast of Mexico were perhaps the first to use vanilla as a flavoring in beverages.  Before that, vanilla was used as a fragrance in temples and the flowers were placed inside of amulets to protect the wearer from the evil eye.

A Tour to Hawaii’s Vanilla Mill

Courtesy of Sonia R. Martinez,

You’re planning a trip to Hawaii’s Big Island and want to experience more than just the beaches, sun and surf.  How about a visit to a working vanilla plantation where you can learn firsthand all that goes into growing this beloved fruit of the orchid family?  Further, you can enjoy a delicious gourmet meal with vanilla as the key ingredient in each of the dishes made fresh in the Vanilla Mill Café at the Hawaiian Vanilla Company.

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