Vanilla is a widely used spice around the world. The pricey ingredient is the main flavoring in ice creams and cola drinks, and it’s also found in some of the world’s finest perfumes and delicacies.
In the mid-nineteenth century, before the vanilla revolution, the world, and Mexico in particular, were generating only a few thousand vanilla beans as a result of bee pollination.
Thanks to a technique discovered by a young African slave, Edmond Albius, the world now produces more than a million beans, not only in Mexico but also in Kenya, Madagascar, China, and Indonesia.
Edmond was only 12 years old when he solved an issue that had plagued Europeans for centuries: the practical procedure for vanilla pollination.
Edmond was born in Sainte-Suzanne, on the island of Bourbon (modern-day Réunion), in 1829. His mother died during childbirth, and he never met his father.
His master sent him to work with Fereol Bellier-Beaumont, who introduced him to horticulture and botany when he was a child.
Edmond spent the majority of his time following Beaumont around the estate, learning about flowers, plants, and fruits, as well as Ferreol’s vanilla vine.
In the 1820s, French colonialists carried vanilla beans to Réunion in the hopes of developing a vanilla industry there, but the plants, like Ferreol’s, were sterile since no insect would pollinate them.
Ferreol was surprised to see that his orchid, which had been barren for many years, had produced fruit while out walking with Edmond in 1841.
Edmond informed him that he had personally pollinated the plant. Ferreol was first skeptical about the child, but when more fruits came later, he requested a demonstration from Edmond.
Edmond demonstrated how he pollinated the vanilla orchid with a small stick or blade of grass and a simple thumb gesture to his master.
Soon after, Edmond began teaching other slaves how to pollinate vanilla orchids on the island.
His method expanded to the Seychelles, Mauritius, and Madagascar, which now produces 80% of all vanilla in the world.
After being emancipated from his owner in June 1848 and adopting the surname “Albius,” Edmond died in 1880 at the age of fifty-one.