Cover image for Vanilla : travels in search of the ice cream orchid
Vanilla : travels in search of the ice cream orchid
Ecott, Tim.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Grove Press, [2004]

Physical Description:
xx, 278 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
SB307.V2 E36 2004 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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A thrilling journey from Mexico to Madagascar, Vanilla is the fascinating story of nature's most exotic and sensual plant and how it produces the world's most popular flavor. From the islands of Tahiti to the botanical gardens of London and Paris, Ecott traces the story of the vanilla plant and its secretive trade, from the golden cups of Aztec emperors to the ice-cream dishes of U.S. presidents. Book jacket.

Author Notes

Tim Ecott grew up in Ireland, the Far East, and Africa. Based in London, his journalism has appeared in numerous national and foreign publications.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

There are more than 25,000 different species of orchids, but only one has agricultural as well as aesthetic value: the vanilla orchid. Its beans may be the planet's most valuable fruit, noteworthy since they're cultivated not for any particular nutritional value but simply for their flavor. Travel journalist Ecott traces vanilla's history from its Mexican origins. Mayan soldiers used to quaff vanilla-flavored drinks before battle, and once Cort?s brought the bean back to Europe, Queen Elizabeth became hooked on vanilla pudding. Botanists couldn't figure out how to fertilize the plant outside its native soil, however, until 1841, when a slave in the French African colony of La R?union showed his owner how to open the flower and press the right parts together. In a few decades, his discovery had made the island the largest producer of vanilla beans in the world. (Unfortunately, there are no maps to make this or other locations clear in readers' minds.) Ecott visits the island and its paltry memorial, along with several other outposts of the vanilla economy, from a Madagascar warehouse containing $100 million worth of beans to the California home of a self-styled "Vanilla Queen" who sells cookbooks. The transitions from historical background to contemporary travels work well enough, yet the story never quite makes the crucial jump from mildly interesting to riveting. 8-page insert, line drawings throughout. Agent, Natasha Fairweather. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Combining botany, history, travel writing, and social commentary, former BBC journalist Ecott chronicles not just any old orchid but the producer of a classic flavoring. In his travels to the major vanilla-growing regions of Mexico, Madagascar, R?union, and Tahiti, he uncovers the laborious growing and curing process, the huge amounts of money paid for the beans, and the small profits that go to the farmers and sorters. While Ecott refrains from editorializing, the contrast between the world of the buyers and the dealers and that of the growers speaks for itself as does the violence that occasionally results. Ecott's fascinating descriptions of the secrecy surrounding the use of vanilla and the unusual characters involved in this world will intrigue readers who enjoyed Susan Orlean's The Orchid Thief. However, the topic may be a bit esoteric for smaller libraries on a strict budget: Ecott's thoroughly researched account goes back to pre-Aztec times. Recommended for larger public libraries. Erin Watson, Univ. of Saskatchewan Lib., Saskatoon (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. x
Prologuep. xiii
Forewordp. xv
1. Black Flowerp. 1
2. An Indian Secretp. 20
3. The City that Perfumed the Worldp. 33
4. Mexican Moneyp. 54
5. From an English Gardenp. 80
6. Ile Bourbonp. 94
7. Creole Heartsp. 108
8. The Slave's Crimep. 126
9. Homage to Albiusp. 149
10. Empress of Tahitip. 163
11. Murder in Madagascarp. 187
12. Ice Cream and Perfumep. 203
13. The Admiral's Legacyp. 218
14. Vanilla Princep. 236
Epiloguep. 266
Acknowledgementsp. 269
Select Bibliographyp. 273