Vanilla (Vanilla planifolia) is a vine in the Orchid family (Orchidaceae), native to Central America. Distinctive and famous for its large fragrant yellow flowers, vanilla is one of the most popular flavourings in the world. Vanilla extract comes from its pods, the long, thin fruits of the plant which, once they have turned dark, can be picked and used as a spice in a variety of sweet and savoury recipes.
Vanilla extract has a long history, dating back to the Aztecs, who used the spice “Tlixochill” to sweeten their own drinks, and give their infusions a more delicate flavour. Vanilla began to be imported and sold in Europe in the 16th century, when it was brought to Europe by the Spanish. Initially, vanilla flavourings were considered a privilege, used by nobles to spice their beverages, but in the 19th and 20th centuries, vanilla began to be used as a spice in its own right, for example as an essential ingredient for making classic vanilla-flavoured hand-made gelato.
Today, vanilla extract is used in many recipes to flavour liqueurs or beverages, to sweeten desserts, to make exotic dishes, but also for making hand-made gelato. Among the different varieties of vanilla are Bourbon vanilla from Madagascar which is considered the finest and premium quality, followed by Tahiti vanilla with its aftertaste of plum and finally Vanilla Tahitensis with its taste reminiscent of aniseed.