The Boy Who Launched The Vanilla Industry
Réunion, a departement of France, is a small island in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and south-west of Mauritius. The island is famous for its vanilla. Called “bourbon” after the island’s former name, the vanilla comes from orchids’ pods which are sweetly scented and ideal for perfume and food spicing. Unfortunately, this particular variety of orchid is pollinated naturally only by a small bee, Melipona. And the bee lives only in its habitat of Central America.
Réunion has the perfect climate for vanilla orchids. But when the first rooted cuttings were shipped to the island, they failed to produce pods, because they had not been pollinated. A 12-year-old enslaved boy, Edmond Albius, developed a way to pollinate each orchid by hand. Edmond’s technique made vanilla profitable to grow outside of its native Mexico, and is still used around the world, including on Réunion. Which means you need to thank a hard-working orchid pollinator every time you taste or smell real vanilla.