8 Things You Didn't Know About Vanilla

I'm not sure when the term “vanilla” became synonymous with boring, but it probably has to do with being the foundation for all good things not chocolate.

You’re here! Great. Don’t swipe right just yet. I’m not sure when the term “vanilla” became synonymous with boring, but it probably has to do with being the foundation for all good things not chocolate, which is incredible when you really think about it.

So stop taking this nuanced, yet complex ingredient for granted and appreciate it with these seven things you didn’t know.

1. After Saffron, Vanilla Is The Second Most Expensive Spice On The Market


It’s liquid gold! Photo: Brian Boucheron / Flickr

For such a common ingredient, you might be surprised to know that it’s one of the most labor-intensive crops to harvest. In nature, vanilla flowers open for only 24 hours and must be pollinated by the Melipona bee or no pod will be produced. Because of this, the majority are hand pollinated, which is not a simple task.

2. Vanilla Is A Flower


Educate yourself. Photo: Damitr / Wikipedia

More specifically vanilla is an orchid that grows in a vine-like fashion. As the only edible fruit of the orchid family, the most common variety harvested is known as flat-leaved vanilla. Pods that grow from the plant are harvested before they are ripe, steeped in hot water and then laid out to dry for months at a time.

3. Spiders Can’t Stand The Smell Of Vanilla


Um, I’m sorry, do spiders not have souls? Photo: Allie Pasquier / Flickr

Place a bowl of vanilla beans that have been preserved in vodka or vinegar, or just regular vanilla extract in your garden, on your kitchen counter, or anywhere you find spiders and it should keep them away.

4. Thomas Jefferson Introduced Vanilla To America


Ice cream looks good on you, Tom.

Besides popularizing macaroni n’ cheese and French fries, Thomas Jefferson also introduced the U.S. to vanilla sometime during the late 1700s after he was introduced to it while serving as Ambassador to King Louis XVI in France.

5. Not All Vanilla Is Created Equal


You fancy, huh? Photo: Janet Hudson / Flickr

Walk down any ice cream aisle and you are sure to see vanilla, vanilla bean, and French vanilla options. But what do they all mean? Straight vanilla only uses vanilla extract (or a substitute) while vanilla bean has unprocessed grains from a vanilla pod, which explains its excess cost. French vanilla, on the other hand, is more custard based and gets its rich consistency and yellow color from egg yolk.

6. Chocolate (Cocoa) And Vanilla Are Indigenous To The Same Region


Chocolate and vanilla really DO belong together!

While most vanilla today is grown in Madagascar, Tahiti, and Mexico, it’s indigenous to the Americas (mainly South and Central America), along with our other favorite dessert flavor – chocolate – which comes from cocoa beans.

7. Vanilla Is Now Grown In Four Different Regions Of The World


See? Vanilla can be exotic, too! Photo: Yardensachs / Wikipedia

Vanilla may have originated in Mexico, but Madagascar is now the largest producer, along with the island of Réunion, which was formerly known as Île Bourbon.

Mexico still produces some vanilla, along with Tahiti, and each region is known for a distinct flavoring.

8. Spanish Explorer Hernán Cortés Is Credited With Introducing Europe To Both Flavors


Listen, if you discovered hot chocolate we’d make a bust out of you, too. Photo: Carlos VdeHabsburgo / Wikipedia

When Cortés met with the Aztecs way back in 1519, Emperor Montezuma (he of the revenge) served Cortés and his crew a drink called xocolatl, a warm mix of cocoa, vanilla, and other ingredients that were a precursor to what we know as hot chocolate today. It was so well received the conquistador brought both ingredients back to Europe and it’s been a love affair since.