Anything flavoured vanilla is thought of almost as being unflavoured. Often foods like vanilla ice cream or yoghurt are considered to be plain, not flavoured.

While people go crazy over chocolate flavoured delights, not many people seem to share the same level of enthusiasm for vanilla.

In computer terminology, a vanilla version of something is basic, pared down, default set up. More interesting versions get names like chocolate or mocha, as if vanilla is somehow flavourless compared to those two.

Vanilla’s reputation is further sullied by it being part of “Vanilla Ice,” the stage name taken by early nineties rap icon Robert Van Winkle. As he fell from fame and into notoriety, his stage name became the punch line to many jokes.

Vanilla is considered plain and boring. It’s ordinary and unexciting. It’s bland and white. It’s not funky or soulful, it’s dull old vanilla.

But wait – vanilla isn’t that. In fact, it’s almost the complete opposite.

First, the name. Vanilla comes from the Latin word vagina, meaning sheath or pod. It’s thought that it was named either because some early botanist looked at a vanilla pod and it reminded him of a vagina, or because it was thought to be an aphrodisiac. (Just imagine if plants were still named that way. “Oh look, I’ve planted a Mighty Shaft of Desire next to the roses!”)

That puts an interesting twist on this quote by porn actress Annabel Chong, who once slept with 251 men in ten hours, “I can’t speak for all the women in the world, but I am sure there are certain women out there who have a part of their sexuality that’s not vanilla, that’s not polite.”

Then there’s the vanilla equalling white thing. Ever seen a vanilla bean pod? It’s dark, dark brown; almost black. There’s nothing plain or white about it.

And the flavour; the rich, dark, smouldering and sensuous flavour almost seems to evoke the steamy tropical heat of the countries it’s grown in.

Vanilla compliments and enhances the flavours of many other foods. It’s been used with chocolate to give smooth, mellow tones, since the 16th century. It blends especially well with dairy products, giving us such delightful treats as vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla may still be thought of by some as plain and boring, but really it’s rich and sensual and exotic, full of hidden surprises.

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