Vanilla - Information and Spice Variations

Vanilla is the only fruit-bearing orchid out of the hundreds of orchid species. "Vanilla" has become a synonym for "plain" or "boring", but this is utterly unfair to this exotic and finicky plant. Native to Central and South America, vanilla was treasured as both a foodstuff and as currency. It was discovered by the Spanish conquistadors and taken back to Europe during the Age of Exploration, where the Europeans, especially the French, quickly devoloped a taste for it. Vanilla was used by the wealthy in traditional New World beverages, and increasingly as a flavoring for pastry. The French loved it so much they bought plant cuttings from the Spanish in South America and transplanted them to their colonies at Madagascar and French Polynesia. When the transplanted vines failed to produce fruit, the French and Spanish nearly came to blows. Finally it was discovered that the little melipone bee was pollinating vines in the Americas, but nothing was pollinating transplanted vines. Even today, vines outside of Central America have to be carefully hand-pollinated by lightly touching each blossom with a stick during the brief time it's open.

Once the blossoms are pollinated and the pods form, they must be picked green and cured in a labor-intensive, months-long process before they can be sold or used to make extract or other vanilla products. Cured beans have an exquisite flavor that blends well in both sweet and savory cooking. Besides the traditional ice cream and cream sauces, try vanilla in fruit dishes, paired with tomato, chili peppers or black pepper, or in marinades for pork and chicken. Our website has recipes for chipotle-vanilla salmon and truffle-vanilla duck.

Vanilla is considered a boring or common flavor because imitation vanilla is so easy to make. Being cheaply available, imitation vanilla has been used extensively in ice creams and baked goods. Even some high-end ice cream companies, that claim to use "real vanilla beans", sometimes use only beans that have already been used to make extract (leaving almost no flavor in the bean). This give ice cream the black flecks of vanilla seeds, while the flavor is still imitation. Real vanilla, either whole beans or extract made from them, is a deliciously complex flavor, suitable for the most luxurious gourmet dishes.

Chicago Old Town Premium Spiced Sugar


Chicago Old Town Premium Spiced Sugar is a delightful variation of our hand-made vanilla sugar —for a more sophisticated taste. We start with our …

Lavender Vanilla Sugar


Lavender Vanilla Sugar adds a subtle floral touch to baked goods, tea, toast or muffins. It's perfect for delicate desserts for brunch or high tea. …

Madagascar "Bourbon Islands" Vanilla Beans


Vanilla is an indispensable flavoring for sweet foods. You will find whole vanilla beans called for in creme brulee, creme anglaise, most dessert sau…

Mexican Vanilla Beans


Mexico has always had the reputation for the best vanilla, but it is much more difficult and expensive to produce the highest quality vanilla crops.…

Tahitian "Gold" Vanilla Beans


We are very proud to offer these prize Tahitian vanilla beans to our customers. This is one of the few circumstances where being a smaller company ha…

Madagascar "Bourbon Islands" Pure Single-Strength Vanilla Extract


Madagascar produces most of the vanilla sold commercially, and consequently is the quintessential, familiar vanilla flavor for most people. It is th…

Madagascar "Bourbon Islands" Pure Double-Strength Vanilla Extract


Double strength Madagascan Vanilla Extract is made from 200 beans per gallon, as opposed to the single strength vanilla extract, which is made from 1…

Mexican Pure Vanilla Extract


Mexican Vanilla Extract has an extra spiciness to it that marries well with desserts that are heavy on the baking spices, and a rich, earthy creamine…

Tahitian Pure Vanilla Extract


Tahitian Vanilla Extract has the sweet flowery nature of Tahitian vanilla beans. This vanilla pairs beautifully with fruit, especially berries, cher…

Madagascar "Bourbon Islands" Vanilla Bean Paste


Vanilla bean paste is a convenient, easy-to-use replacement for whole vanilla beans. Whole vanilla beans will dry out and become hard to use over ti…

Madagascar Vanilla Powder


Madagascar Vanilla Powder is made from pure Madagascar Bourbon Island vanilla bean extractives on a malto-dextrin base. This vanilla powder is ideal …

Vanilla Bean Sugar


Our popular Vanilla Bean Sugar is made with premium hand-choppped Bourbon Island vanilla beans, our richest, most intense vanilla extract, and the fi…