Film Premiere: The Orchid That Sweetened the World

In 1519 Hernan Cortez became the first European to taste vanilla, a flavor no one beyond the Aztecs’ ancient lands had ever imagined. From Montezuma’s cup of friendship, he drank an exotic mix of cacao, corn, honey and this surprising new spice, the fruit of vines from a place Cortez would name Villa Rica de la Vera Cruz, the rich village of the true cross.

The story didn’t turn out well for Montezuma, but this month it makes a delicious plot line for One Degree’s newest video, the tale of a delicate plant that revolutionized cookies, cakes, ice cream and soon a very special North American granola.

At the time of the conquistadors, vanilla was not only limited geographically, but also dependent on a single bee variety for pollination. The vine itself could not survive without the sheltering canopy of broadleaf evergreens. Vanilla was as fragile and fleeting as a beautiful flower, because that’s exactly what it is — the only edible orchid in the world.

More than three centuries after Europeans’ first sweet taste, Domingo Gaia Tossi arrived in Veracruz from Italy, and was as surprised as the conquistadors had been to discover the real treasure of Veracruz: its ancient, archetypal vanilla bean. Five generations later, the Gaya family maintains a thriving enterprise that grows, processes and trades this most original of vanillas — grown purely and veganically, without chemicals or animal inputs of any kind.

We invite you to follow our own voyage of exploration through the fields and greenhouses of Gaya Vai-Mex, and with us discover this magnificent truth: Although vanilla is today grown in many places, it is still the Veracruz sun that warms the richest vanilla, prodding the curling vines skyward, and cheering the pretty, demure blossoms blinking open at dawn.

Begin your visit with our film premiere below. Or enjoy the video along with photos and an essay on our Web site: