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Why vanilla is not “vanilla” at all

I used to think that vanilla was about as unexciting as you could get. I know I wasn’t alone. Even the word “vanilla” can be used to describe something bland or ordinary.

But then I got older. And with age came an appreciation of subtlety.

One thing that helped me appreciate vanilla’s subtlety was my first taste of Ciao Bella Tahitian vanilla gelato. Aromatic and delicate, yes, but also completely swoon-worthy.

I also met and worked with a few pastry chefs. And I noticed them using whole, fresh, plump, silky, sexy vanilla beans, beans that looked nothing like the dried-up things you get at the supermarket and that contributed soft but also beautifully intoxicating notes to all they touched.

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Plus, you know, those cool little vanilla flecks

And then I learned how vanilla is made. It’s pretty wild.

Vanilla comes from a specific type of orchid, one that blooms for only a few hours, during which the flower must be hand-pollinated to produce the pod, or bean. The beans are then hand-picked and cured, sweated, and dried, a process that takes months.


For every single bean!

Makes vanilla downright fascinating, doesn’t it?

But perhaps most importantly, I married a man who unabashedly adores vanilla—yet who, almost fifteen years later, remains anything but bland or ordinary.

Here’s to vanilla not being “vanilla” at all. And to my husband, on his birthday, which we’re celebrating with vanilla bean cookies.

Vanilla Bean Cookies on

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