Aim to be vanilla

July 2013 · 1 minute read

The term "vanilla" is often used to describe something ordinary, plain, or standard — the default option. I've never understood this because vanilla is one of the most awe-inspiring things in the world.

Vanilla beans are the fruit of a rare orchid native to Mexico. Their aroma and flavor comes from a compound called vanillin. Each vanilla flower blooms just one morning out of every year. The orchid can only be naturally pollinated by a small Mexican bee, and if it isn’t pollinated that morning, the flower will wilt. No bean. Commercially, vanilla is now delicately hand-pollinated one flower at a time.

The labor involved in vanilla production makes it the second most expensive spice in the world after saffron. Its flavor has been prized since Mesoamerican times, and as you well know, can be found in every ice cream shop on Earth. It's the best-selling flavor in the world.

Next time you think of using the adjective “vanilla”, consider the words “plain” or “mundane”. Because vanilla is far from being either of those. Vanilla is the option that works for almost everyone in the world.

Look at what you’re making and ask yourself, is your default anywhere near as good as vanilla? If not, don’t get carried away trying to make other flavors.