Love Vanilla? You Should Thank This Black Child

edmond albius
Via Picryl
Adé Hennis
May 17, 2024

About 75% of the world’s vanilla is produced on the islands of Madagascar and Réunion in the Indian Ocean. But because vanilla is labor and time intensive to grow, it is also one of the most expensive spices on earth.

In 1841,  Edmond Albius was an enslaved 12-year-old orphan on the island of  Réunion. He learned how to pollinate watermelon from his enslaver. He applied what he observed and devised an effective method of pollinating vanilla plants by hand.  His enslaver then had the boy teach the method to enslaved people on other plantations.

Vanilla production on the island took off as a result of Edmond Albius’ technique. Even his enslaver noted that the island “owed him a debt for starting up a new industry with a fabulous product.”  But this debt was never paid to him.

Albius was never paid for his work or teachings that made vanilla tremendously popular and profitable worldwide.  He died in poverty in 1880.

It’s hard to imagine how we would manage without the vanilla ice cream, vanilla milkshakes and vanilla cookies that we love.  We have Edmond Albius to thank for making life so sweet.