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Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World's Favorite Flavor and Fragrance Hardcover – November 4, 2004

3.7 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Ever wonder how to tell mildew from crystallized essence on those vanilla beans in your cupboard? Ever hear about the 17th-century Jewish vanilla curers of Guyana? Need a recipe for Chipotle-Vanilla Salsa? Thanks to her extensive experience in the vanilla field (Rain's a vanilla broker, president of the Vanilla.COMpany, and author of The Vanilla Cookbook), Rain can discuss everything from the various international terms for the hand-pollination of vanilla flowers to the ethical issues raised by synthetic vanilla. In this surprisingly comprehensive survey, she takes readers through the history of vanilla production from Mexico to Indonesia, covering relatively obscure producers like the French island of Réunion, as well as Madagascar and the nearby Comoro Islands. While the vanilla orchid is sensuous and aesthetically pleasing, the story (as Rain presents it) of how various colonial powers subjugated indigenous producers to reap the profits from its cultivation is not as pretty. Rain leavens this sometimes depressing history with recipes, folkloric tales and personal vignettes. While few readers may want to drink even a modern adaptation of Aztec hot chocolate or prepare an Indonesian rice pudding with "black glutinous rice," pandan leaf and palm sugar syrup, Rain's advice on choosing and using vanilla in the home kitchen is quite useful. Photos, illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

As the author notes, it is very odd that the term vanilla has come to represent plainness and simplicity. It only shows how much we have learned to take for granted the rare and complex flavor and perfume of the seedpods of this highly prized orchid. Although the origins of vanilla are shrouded in pre-Columbian Mexican history, Cortes and his troops became aware of it and chocolate at nearly the same time and introduced Europeans to vanilla's savory and olfactory delights. Rain meticulously traces vanilla's history and manufacture in Mexico and follows its gradual transplantation to other tropical climes. Thanks to hybridization and continuing strong demand for vanilla, plantations have sprung up everywhere the fussy vanilla orchid can flourish and wherever there is sufficient hand labor to cultivate it. Country by country, Rain outlines the history of vanilla production, the economic impact of its processing, and the unique local characteristics of each area's vanilla. Illustrations supplement the text, and recipes appear in sidebars from both historic and contemporary sources. Mark Knoblauch
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Tarcher (November 4, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1585423637
  • ISBN-13: 978-1585423637
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #402,237 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Here's everything you want to know about vanilla! I'm thrilled that someone with Patricia Rain's knowledge and passion has given readers and cooks such a comprehensive read. She even includes recipes and some intriguing uses for vanilla as a bonus (I'm making my own vanilla extract following her simple instructions.)

Anyone with an interest in baking and cooking, as well as the cultural and political issues associated with vanilla, will find 'Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World's Favorite Flavor and Fragrance' a fascinating read. Want to know why that cheap Mexican vanilla isn't really a bargain (and isn't really vanilla)? Is there Bourbon in Bourbon vanilla? Why does vanilla vary so much in price and value? The answers are all in this book... I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this fascinating flavor that's captivated people around the world.
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Format: Hardcover
This book gives an ecological and cultural history of vanilla, one of the oldest "spices" known to man. The book itself is interesting to read, and can be finished in several hours. It covers many things of interest such as:

1. The book describes the plant vanilla comes from, where this fits within the botanical world. The book also goes into a little detail of the chemistry of vanilla, why it smells the way it does, what is the natural purpose(s) of this aroma, and what are similar plants like it.

2. The book describes how humans probably first learned about vanilla, how the use of vanilla slowly spread around the world, and how it is treated in different cultures throughout history (currency, aphrodisiac, status symbol, etc..).

3. The book shows with great detail how vanilla is used in fragrances and food dishes throughout the world. The book is replete with cooking recipes showing how vanilla can be used in salads, seafoods, soups, meat dishes, etc...

4. Last, the book explains the vanilla industry, from seed to final consumer, and shows how the various industries and countries take part in this truly global trade. The book also shows how modern agriculture and agro-science has affected the domestication of vanilla (not a lot), even though science has a fairly good grasp of where the smell comes from and how to extract it for non-edible uses; i.e. garbage bags.

Overall, this is an interesting book to read, and I recommend it.
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Format: Hardcover
Vanilla is the only member of the orchid family, a family consisting of 90,000+ types, that has any edible properties. Vanilla is also used as an aphrodesiac to entice the opposite sex in the modern world, the same way it was back in the Aztec world. Of course it was also used to entice the Gods before a human sacrafice (reminds me of an ex I have *shudder*). Vanilla is also the cause for an unknown number of murders throughout history, flavoring your favorite foods, and is one of the most chemically complex compounds known to man! Vanilla, truly, is anything but vanilla.

Given, my book club was hesitant to read Patricia Rain, the Vanilla Queen's, newest book Vanilla: The Cultural History of the World's Favorite Flavor and Fragrance. Food histories are rarely o the top of anyone's "Must Read" list, and why would it be when The Secret Life of... can condense it so much easier in a simple half hour serving? But I was able to convince them otherwise, and they for the most part, enjoyed it.

Patricia Rain is by no means a truly professional writer (pot calling the kettle black), as it is layed out much like a college thesis - chronologically, and by subject. Luckilly it doesn't read like one; most of the time that is. While some historical backgrounds of the sweet bean may drag a bit, the favorite flavors' fascinating and intriguing story always pulls you in and Rain's writing always catches you time and again.

Rain begins the book with a short rundown of how and where vanilla grows and subsequently the how and where vanilla is cured and processed. She then proceeds to take us through it use and history in Aztec culture such as the above mentioned people slaughters and seductions.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
While I found a lot of the material in the book very interesting, it is put together in such a muddled way that it is very difficult enjoy reading it. The book seems to be composed of a number of previously written (and in many cases overlapping) articles joined together with fairly boring 'filler' to try and present a 'complete' view.

I would suggest buying the book if you're interested in reading about early colonial life in the vanilla industry in Papantla, Mexico. Most of the other information can be easily found on the internet.
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Format: Hardcover
This week I made vanilla cupcakes with vanilla buttercream icing so vanilla was on my mind. I was happy to find this book about the complete history of vanilla. I've read one other book on vanilla, Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid, and found the subject fascinating. If I was to decide between the books I'd choose this one because Patricia Rain is so passionate about her subject. She did an immense amount of research to write this book and the writing flows effortlessly. The topics are well organized and each section of the book is enlightening.

The first half of the book is as much a history of Mexico as it is about vanilla. There is also quite a bit of history about chocolate. Patricia Rain gives an around-the-world tour of vanilla as she describes how it is grown in various countries. From what I can tell it seems she covers every country where vanilla has ever been grown. To be honest the information became a little overwhelming. I read the book in two days but I'd recommend you take it in smaller doses.

One of the things I really enjoyed while reading this book was the section on all the famous companies like Nielsen-Massey and McCormick and how they got their start in the world. There is also a discussion of favorite perfumes that contain vanilla. The only thing Patricia Rain really doesn't cover is vanilla in beauty products. She briefly mentions the use in soaps. Personally I've tried: The Body Shop Vanilla Spice Soap.

The recipes in this book all look delicious and all contain vanilla.
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