Vanilla: A brief history of the world’s favourite spice

From Totonac Indians to the Aztecs and English royalty, the history of vanilla is anything but plain. Arguably the world’s most popular spice, vanilla has a rich and intriguing backstory that may make you appreciate it even more next time you’re planning a show-stopping dessert menu.

From Mexican and Spanish beginnings

The history of vanilla stretches back more than 2,000 years to the Totonac Indians of Mexico’s east coast. The keepers of this secret spice until they were conquered by the Aztecs in the 15th century, the Totonacs had commonly used ground vanilla beans to flavour “Chocolatl”, a beverage made from water, ground roasted cocoa beans and honey.

In 1519, The Aztec Emperor Montezuma greeted Spanish Conquistador Cortez in Mexico with a golden cup of Chocolatl. Cortez was astounded by the flavour of vanilla and returned to Spain with cacao and vanilla beans. The drink was an instant hit and became extremely popular throughout Europe.


A spice fit for royalty

80 years later, Hugh Morgan, apothecary to Queen Elizabeth I, suggested vanilla beans could be used to flavour desserts. As a result, vanilla become a prized flavour in custards, puddings and cakes with Queen Elizabeth and the European upper class, and in time, Queen Victoria, who inspired our brand name, Queen.

In the years that followed, vanilla vines were planted in other parts of the world with similar climatic conditions to Mexico. However, the flowers that bloomed on the vines failed to produce pods and Mexico remained the world’s only supplier of vanilla beans.

In 1836, Belgian Botanist Charles Morren discovered that vanilla flowers could not be pollinated without assistance. He identified that the native Mexican Melipone bee was responsible for pollinating the flowers that went on to grow vanilla pods. It was the absence of these bees’ cross-pollination skills that was causing the lack of vanilla beans on vines grown outside of Mexico.

Finally, in 1841, Edmond Albius on the island of Reunion in the Indian Ocean figured out how to hand-pollinate the vanilla flowers with a long, thin stick made from bamboo.

The simple technique led to vanilla beans being grown in Madagascar, India, Tahiti, Comoros, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and Tonga. It also paved the way for Madagascar to become the world’s largest producer of vanilla, with Reunion being the most famous.


The Queen brand takes flight

Established in Brisbane in 1897, the Queen brand originated in an age when bread puddings and tea cakes reigned supreme. Inspired by Queen Victoria’s love of vanilla, it has grown to become an iconic brand and the secret ingredient in many best-selling desserts, bakery products, confectionery and beverages.

The very first Queen Vanilla was made way back in the early 1900s. It was a pure vanilla extract in a small glass bottle. At the time, fresh food and baking ingredients were difficult to source, as they were imported into Australia by ship from London. Instead, Queen Vanilla was relied on to add flavour and excitement to recipes.

In the years that followed, Queen’s founders, pharmacists Mr Taylor and Mr Colledge worked on their increasingly popular vanilla recipe to finally master a cold extracted blend of vanilla that contained vanilla pods sourced from across the globe. This became Queen’s signature red label vanilla essence blend.

Since then, Queen has gone on to become one of the world’s great vanilla houses, with a range of Australian manufactured vanilla products that are trusted by food manufacturers, restaurants, bakeries and cafes around the world.


Success through sustainable partnerships

If there’s one thing that lies at the heart of Queen’s success, it’s the relationships we have built with our vanilla farmers. Our long history in vanilla production means we have seen first-hand the impact of natural weather events on this precious crop and the lives of the families who grow it.

These experiences have strengthened the ties we have built with vanilla growers around the world and seen the formation of partnerships with industry organisations such as Fairtrade and Australian Certified Organic to produce vanilla that is sustainable and fair.

We’re dedicated to helping our growers build sustainable farms and maximise their crop yields and margins. This is achieved by sharing knowledge, equipment and funding with farmers in vanilla growing regions including Madagascar, Papua New Guinea and the Comoros Islands.

Our history of quality, innovation and sustainability has seen Queen grow from humble origins in vanilla essence into a premium flavour solutions partner with products used by commercial kitchens and food manufacturers in more than 40 countries.


Want to know more about partnering with Queen Professional in your business? Feel free to get in touch

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