That’s right perfumed! The Comoros islands is filled with the aroma of vainilla, cinnamon, cloves and Chanel No. 5! ^ ^ Let me explain…
Ylang-Ylang, known Cananga odorata or Cananga Tree, is native to India, South East Asia and Polynesia.
“It is a fast-growing tree of the custard apple family Annonaceae. Its growth exceeds 5 m (16 ft) per year, and it attains an average height of 12 m (39 ft) in an ideal climate. The compound evergreen leaves are pinnate, smooth and glossy, and 13–21 cm (5–8.5 in) long. Leaflets are oval, pointed and with wavy margins. The flower is drooping, long-stalked, with six narrow, greenish-yellow (rarely pink) petals, rather like a sea star in appearance, and yields a highly fragrant essential oil.”
This is what the tree looks like:
This is the flower:
And here are some images of its harvesting:
The Comoros has the highest production and processing of the flower known as ylang-yalang that when processed is used to make perfume Chanel No. 5. and many other perfumes. It is a flower smell very hard to replicate artificially. The Comoros produces about 60% of the world production of this flower. (2) This plant is not easy to cultivate as it needs frequent pruning and it takes a lot of them to make the essential oil that eventually males it to the perfume labs.
I read about a cooperative that includes about 250 female ylang-ylang pickers, 50 planters and 47 male distillers.
“We harvest the flowers in our fields. We distill the oils in our distillery. And we export right at the Port of Mutsamudu,” said President of the Association of Comoros Ylang-ylang, Vanilla and Clove Cooperatives — Abdou Ahamadi — of the new setup. He added, “every month, the coop produces 400 liters of oil. All the oils we produce go to France.” (2)
In this video you can learn more about Ylang-Ylanf flowers an their production. Please come back after watching the video! You don’t want to miss the rest of the aromas!
The fragrance of ylang-ylang is rich and deep with notes of rubber and custard, and bright with hints of jasmine and neroli, thus it is sometimes described as heavy, sweet, and carries a slightly fruity floral scent. (1)
Sadly the higher demands for this flower’s precious distilled oils have caused a lot deforestation in the islands. They use a lot of wood to produce the oils. There are attempts that offer a glimpse of more sustainable processes like this project by the ‘Biodiversity Programme’ that is implemented by the Indian Ocean Commission in partnership with the European Union. This video is a bit long but it is clearly shows the whole picture in the production of Ylang-Ylang.
To end this part of Ylang-Ylang I want to share a folktale about how it came to be. It is from the Philippines. Go HERE.
To end this post, I am sharing perhaps my favorite about Comoros so far. The music is so beautiful and melancholic.
I did not know this, but cloves grow on trees! Somehow I believed they were bushes sort of like blueberry bushes! They are trees!
The story of how cloves began in Indonesia. It was introduced to Madagascar from the Maluku Islands (in Indonesia) in the 19th century. From there it made its way to the Comoros.
The Portuguese were the first ones to see the potential of this spice and held its trading monopoly in the Maluku islands until they were dirven out by the Dutch in the 17th Century. (3) They tried to keep their hold on the trade of cloves and succeded by destroying trees anywhere else in the Indonesian Archipelago until… a missionary called Pierre Poivre from the French East India Company managed to get some saplings.
“He left five little trees to Sieur Hubert, who brought the saplings in Creoles to the Island of Réunion. Only one of the five plants survived the transport: the mother of all cloves in Madagascar and Réunion. Descendants of this plant were then brought into the world. In 1773 they even reached Southern America. Today countries as Indonesia, Madagascar/Comores, Tanzania, Sri Lanka and Bahia/Brazil harvest Cloves.” (4)
In 2014, Madagascar was the number one exporter of cloves in the world, and Indonesia the number one producer and importer.
The clove tree is an evergreen that grows up to 26–39 ft (8–12 meters) tall, with large leaves and crimson flowers grouped in terminal clusters. The flower buds initially have a pale hue, gradually turn green, then transition to a bright red when ready for harvest. Cloves are harvested at 0.59–0.79 in. (1.5–2 centimeters) long, and consist of a long calyx that terminates in four spreading sepals, and four unopened petals that form a small central ball.
Once the gloves turn red, they are separated and dried. It takes a lot of manual work to do this as the flowers are very delicate to be put though machines.
Cloves are used in both culinary and non culinary ways. Cloves are used in the cuisine of Asian, African, Mediterranean, and the Near and Middle East countries, lending flavor to meats, curries, and marinades, as well as fruit (such as apples, pears, and rhubarb). Cloves may be used to give aromatic and flavor qualities to hot beverages, often combined with other ingredients such as lemon and sugar. They are a common element in spice blends, including pumpkin pie spice.
The number one non culinary way in which they are used is in cigarets. These cigarettes have become very popular lately as they seem to be better for one’s health than nicotine based ones. These cigarettes were first used in Indonesia where they are called Kretek.
It has many medicinal uses too. I learned that they are very good to soothe one’s stomach pain. I had a lot of issues with my stomach after traveling to Spain because I drank too much “zumo” (fresh orange juice) in the mornings and its acidity destroyed the balance of my stomach causing me terrible pain. I drank clove tea made from boiling clove powder and it was incredible, it healed me in about three days. I also of course lowered the consumption of foods high in acid content.
I feel such admiration and respect knowing the story behind cloves. I know now the labor it took, when I take that little jar full of them to add them to my apple pie, or gingerbread cookies.
You know how expensive real vanilla can be. Yesterday, I went to get some and just look at those prices:
I used to buy the artificial version of vainilla because I thought it was over priced to buy the real vanilla. Now I understand fully why! And I pay willingly what it costs because like cloves it is a labor of love harvesting them! Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice after saffron. (1)
There are three vanilla species grown worldwide. They all derive from a from an orchid species originally found in Mesoamerica, including parts of modern-day Mexico. They are V. planifolia (syn. V. fragrans), grown on Madagascar, Réunion, and other tropical areas along the Indian Ocean; V. tahitensis, grown in the South Pacific; and V. pompona, found in the West Indies, Central America, and South America. (1)
The word vanilla, derived from vainilla, the diminutive of the Spanish word vaina (vaina itself meaning a sheath or a pod), is translated simply as “little pod”. Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican people cultivated the vine of the vanilla orchid, called tlīlxochitl by the Aztecs. (1)
One interesting fact about this plant is that in 1841, Edmond Albius, a 12-year-old enslaved child who lived on the French island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean, discovered that the plant could be hand-pollinated. Hand-pollination allowed global cultivation of the plant. This is a portrait of him:
This is a photo showing hand-pollination. Imagine having to do that for every flower!
You can read more about this man HERE.
This is what the plant looks like. Because it is an orchid, many times it is planted in trees and hangs down:
This is a great video from CNN showing the production of vainilla in Comoros. Click in the bottom little video clip highlighted in red to play the VIDEO.
Vanilla is widely used in both commercial and domestic baking, perfume production, and aromatherapy.
Two days ago I made Pistachio cookies. I used real vainilla… they tasted amazing! So grateful to know a bit more!
Yes, Yummm is right!
If you still feel like reading a bit more about Comoros, HERE is a great post about someone’s visit to Comoros. It has great photos and he tells it like a story and makes you feel you are there.