Vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world after safron and is produced from the seeds of the orchid–a complex and time-consuming process as the spice’s fragrance and flavor develop during the drying stage.
This spice was discovered by the Aztecs who used it with cocoa. It was introduced to Europe by Spanish explorers who brought it back from South America. Today, the world’s top vanilla producer is Madagascar.
Vanilla has a distinctive flavor and aroma and imparts a subtle sweetness, which is why it is used chiefly in sweets. Powdered vanilla preserves its aroma better than liquid vanilla as the alcohol base evaporates during cooking.