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10 things you didn’t know about vanilla extract and vanilla beans

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Vanilla

In most contexts besides food, “vanilla” is considered plain or ordinary. But when it comes to food and baking — wow! Vanilla is delicious on its own, yes, but it also works to enhance the deliciousness of other foods. Indeed, vanilla is extraordinary, whether you bake with vanilla extract, beans or paste. Here are 10 fun vanilla facts.

  1. Ancient history: Vanilla beans were plundered throughout history, from the Aztecs to Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés.
  2. Not-so ancient history. Thomas Jefferson reportedly brought his affinity for French vanilla ice cream (and the recipe) to the American shores.  
  3. A rose by any other name. Vanilla is a flowering plant and produces the only edible fruit within the orchid family.
  4. Vineyard vines. Vanilla vines are slow to grow, but can reach 30 feet in height. 
  5. Bee mighty. Only the stingless melipona bee, native to Mexico, can pollinate vanilla vines. (Well, and humans.)
  6. Mexican monopoly. Vanilla is indigenous to Mexico, but Indonesia and Madagascar now top the list of vanilla-producing countries.
  7. U.S. monopoly. Sources vary, but some cite the United States as the world’s largest consumer of vanilla.
  8. Vanilla monopoly. Some sources cite vanilla as the most popular ice cream flavor in the United States.
  9. Medicinal benefits. Vanilla has long been revered for its soothing, mood-boosting, mind-sharpening properties.
  10. Beyond baking. Vanilla is in most perfumes and has industrial uses too, but it is most beloved for the way it transforms our baked goods.