Vanilla sticks on bowl of custard with text: Anything But Plain: 5 Little-Known Facts About Vanilla

Anything But Plain: 5 Little-Known Facts About Vanilla

I always laugh when I hear the term ‘plain vanilla’. Vanilla is anything but plain! It has a pleasantly complex, yet distinctive flavor and aroma.

Add vanilla, to improve whatever you’re eating or drinking. Nothing quite beats fine quality French vanilla ice cream with little black specks of vanilla seeds!

When you think about it, vanilla is everywhere! We bake heavenly goodies with generous amounts of vanilla in the batter. We relax to vanilla-scented candles, and wash with vanilla-smelling soap. Not to mention vanilla coffee creamer (powdered or liquid) which perks up an otherwise plain cup of coffee.

When I was a kid, I was intrigued by the smell of vanilla, but not the taste of that dark liquid on a measuring spoon. Ugh! That taste of vanilla was my first experience with the concept of ‘reads better than it eats’. (I’m often heard to utter this when I evaluate restaurant fare!)

My first exposure to the pleasure of vanilla bean pods instead of vanilla extract was while I was making by own kahlúa beverage as Christmas presents many, many years ago.

Since then, I’ve learned a little bit more about one of my favorite flavorings:

Five Fast Facts About Plain Vanilla

1. Europe first tasted vanilla and chocolate (but not together) after Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés visited Mesoamerica in the early 16th century.

2. Vanilla is indigenous to Mexico and is derived from the fruit (seed pod) of a tropical orchid plant.

3. Most of the world’s vanilla grown outside Mexico is artificially hand-pollinated, which accounts for its expensive price tag. (Vanilla grown in Madagascar, West Indies, Central America, South America, Tahiti and Indonesia are all cultivars of original plants from Mexico.)

4. An estimated 95% of products labeled vanilla are actually made of vanillin, which is an artificially produced flavor from lignin, a byproduct of the paper and pulp industry.

5. Vanilla is often imitated by tonka bean extract, which smells and tastes like vanilla, except that it contains a USDA-banned substance (coumarin).

All this talking about vanilla! Now I need vanilla frosting on a devil’s food cupcake, and a vanilla infused latte. Sheer heaven!

Happy Cookbooking,


About Erin Miller

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Posted in Odds and Ends.

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