The Strange Cultural History of Vanilla

The Strange Cultural History of Vanilla

Why is it that when we want to describe something as bland we call it "vanilla"? Maybe because the flavoring — in both extract and bean form — has become ubiquitous. It's nearly impossible to find a baking recipe that doesn't include vanilla.

But the vanilla bean is anything but vanilla. NPR took a closer look at the history and cultural significance of this standard flavor.

A few things we learned:

  • When first brought to Europe, vanilla was used as an aphrodisiac and a nerve stimulant.
  • Queen Elizabeth I is credited with popularizing the flavor.
  • It was a 12-year-old slave in the Bourbon Islands, named Edmond Albius, who finally figured out how to pollinate and cultivate the plants.
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