Vanilla essence comes in two forms. Real seedpod extract is an extremely complicated mixture of several hundred different compounds. Synthetic essence, consisting basically of a solution of synthetic vanillin in ethanol, is derived from phenol and is of high purity Vanilla is a flavoring derived from orchids of the genus Vanilla native to Mexico. Etymologically, vanilla derives from the Spanish word "vainilla", little pod. Originally cultivated by Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican peoples, Spanish conquistador HernÃ¡n CortÃ©s is credited with introducing both the spice and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s. Attempts to cultivate the vanilla plant outside Mexico and Central America proved futile because of the symbiotic relationship between the tlilxochitl vine that produced the vanilla orchid and the local species of Melipona bee; it wasn't until 1837 that Belgian botanist Charles FranÃ§ois Antoine Morren discovered this fact and pioneered a method of artificially pollinating the plant. Unfortunately, the method proved financially unworkable and was not deployed commercially. In 1841, a 12-year-old French-owned slave by the name of Edmond Albius, who lived on ÃŽle Bourbon, discovered the plant could be hand pollinated, allowing global cultivation of the plant. There are currently three major cultivars of vanilla grown globally, all derived from a species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern day Mexico. The various subspecies are Vanilla planifolia (syn. V. fragrans), grown on Madagascar, RÃ©union and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean; V. tahitensis, grown in the South Pacific; and V. pompona, found in the West Indies, Central and South America. The majority of the world's vanilla is the V. planifolia variety, more commonly known as "Madagascar-Bourbon" vanilla, which is produced in a small region of the East African nation of Madagascar and in Indonesia. Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron, due to the extensive labor required to grow the seed pods used in its manufacture. Despite the expense, it is highly valued for its flavor, which author Frederic Rosengarten, Jr. described in The Book of Spices as "pure, spicy, and delicate" and its complex floral aroma depicted as a "peculiar bouquet." Regardless of its high cost, vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume manufacture and aromatherapy.