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What is Vanilla Spice?

vanilla spice


Vanilla is a spice from a long black pod which when opened reveals tiny black fragrant seeds that provide the most popular ice-cream flavoring in the world.

What does vanilla taste like?

The flavor of vanilla is distinctively sweet and perfumed with a hint of smoke which can be compared to caramel while the aroma is warm of wood and honey.

Where does vanilla come from?

Vanilla is native to Mexico coming from the fruit-bearing orchid named the vanilla plant. The name vanilla comes from the Latin for sheath or pod and there are varying species throughout the world. 

Vanilla flavors will differ depending on the species of plant and the way that they are processed. Tahitian is fruity and floral, Mexican has a spice and Indonesian is strong and smoky.

Madagascar vanilla beans (also known as Bourbon vanilla) are regarded as the best and highest complex quality. 

Vanilla Uses

Vanilla is cured and dried in processing. The process of producing vanilla is labor-intensive as the plant needs to be individually hand-pollinated which has led to its expensive price.

Vanilla primarily has a sweet application and can be used as an individual flavoring or to enhance sweeter aspects of a dish. 

Most commonly vanilla spice is used combined within custards, mousse, creams, cakes, and infusions into egg-based sauces. 

After scraping the beans used vanilla pods can be repurposed to infuse their flavor into sugar, alcohol, or syrups.   

Vanilla Substitutes

  • Maple syrup: sweet and smoky properties mimic the flavor of vanilla extract in dessert recipes.
  • Almond extract: a sweet extract that can be used as a substitute in recipes that use vanilla as a background flavor. 

Vanilla Compliments and Pairings

The sweet use of vanilla means it compliments with ingredients including ice cream, cream, sugar, apple, raspberry, strawberry, cinnamon, rum, bourbon, white chocolate, lemon, yoghurt, pear, pomegranate, peach and honey. 

Vanilla Expiration and Storage

  • Beans: Store in an airtight container at room temperature away from direct light for up to two years.
  • Extract/Essence: Store in a dark cool environment for two to three years.

Fun Facts About Vanilla

  • Although a complex flavor the term ‘vanilla’ is often used to refer to something boring.
  • Vanilla is the second most expensive spice by weight in the world. 
  • Vanilla is the only member of the orchid family which bears fruit.

Popular Vanilla Recipes

  • Mille Feuille
  • Vanilla ricotta
  • Vanilla ice-cream
  • Vanilla custard slice
  • French toast
  • Vanilla cheesecake
  • Raspberry and vanilla panna cotta
  • Vanilla souffle
  • Creme Anglaise

Chef Max

Michelin trained professional chef with a passion for recipe writing and all things food. I have worked for over five years at top restaurants across the UK and have gained an ability to create any recipe you desire, from comfort food recipes to fine dining recipes. My experience in food writing includes a placement at Delicious Magazine which involved feature writing, recipe testing, article research, and content creation.

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