I’ve always really liked vanilla. Even though it’s the most popular flavor, I don’t think it’s appreciated enough.
First, vanilla deserves recognition for being so botanically interesting. Vanilla comes from the fruit of an orchid and it’s unique in that it’s the only orchid variety to have an edible fruit.
And vanilla is the most labor intensive agricultural product. That’s why it’s so valuable and expensive. In his book, Vanilla: Travels in Search of the Ice Cream Orchid, Tim Ecott explains that one U.S. importer of vanilla has to store his vanilla bean shipments in separate warehouses, miles apart. The vanilla is worth so much that if it’s all stored in one location and something happens to that warehouse (such as a plane hitting the building), the company would be ruined.
Vanilla is remarkably complex. Beth Nielsen, Chief Culinary Officer at Nielsen-Massey, a leading producer of vanilla and flavors, compares vanilla with wine. The flavor profiles of both wine and vanilla vary depending on the growing region. She typically uses Mexican vanilla in recipes with chocolate or in spicy dishes. When using fruit, particularly berries or cherries, she adds Tahitian vanilla. Madagascar Bourbon is the most popular type of vanilla and it’s her “go-to-gal” as it has the most universal flavor profile and will enhance any recipe.
Let’s not take vanilla for granted!