What is Vanilla?
A truly unique spice with complex flavours that have made it both valuable and desirable for millennia. A taste so widely loved it’s become the standard for dishes like ice cream, custard and much more.
What does vanilla taste like?
Vanilla’s unique sweet flavour is hard to describe, it has floral notes with an almost caramel like sweetness. Hints of citrus can also penetrate through.
What is vanilla used for?
Vanilla’s complex sweetness has made it ubiquitous in baking and sweet dishes. It has become the standard flavour for ice cream, custard, and many more dishes. Don’t let that make you think that vanilla is boring though, vanilla (especially fresh vanilla pods) is a flavour worth celebrating in its own right.
Vanilla pairs well with sweet spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger. One of the best pairings is with chocolate, the two flavours combine into a delectable taste which is perfect for brownies, cake or other chocolate based desserts. Vanilla is incredibly potent so it can be more convenient to use infusions or extracts to impart its flavour. An easy way to do this at home is to make vanilla sugar, it’s as easy as dropping a vanilla bean into a tub of sugar and waiting a couple of days!
Vanilla is a favourite botanical of many rum distilleries where along with spices like cinnamon and cloves they are used to make spiced rum.
Names and Origins
The word Vanilla comes from the Spanish vainilla meaning “little pod”. Vanilla pods are the fruit of the vanilla orchid, a genus of flowering plants originating in Mexico. They were first used as a flavouring by the Olmecs of Mesoamerica and later the Totonacs. The Invading Aztecs combined vanilla with their traditional hot chocolate recipe in the 15th century CE.
Vanilla has always been extremely valuable as a commodity, moreso in the past, due to the difficulty in cultivating the plant on commercial scales. This all changed in 1841 when a 12 year old enslaved child Edmond Albius discovered a method of hand pollinating the flowers on the French island Reunion. Since then commercial vanilla production has exploded with Madagascar, Mexico and Indonesia being major exporters.