Vanilla has gotten a bad name. It has become a synonym for blandness, for a lack of originality, an insipid mediocrity. In a world of seemingly infinite flavors–vanilla is viewed as the simplest, the plainest, the least interesting.
And I want to argue the opposite.
For I find vanilla the most intoxicating and exotic of spices. (It is second only to saffron as the world’s most expensive.)
For me, vanilla is the scent that a beautiful woman dabs on her wrist or behind her ear. It is the exotic and erotic scent that follows her as she passes, an aroma of rain-forest and orchids, of moist heat and island breezes.
Vanilla is the smell of sweet pipe tobacco that still clings in memories onto a ragged old cardigan. A fusty old man, slow in his movements and careful in his thoughts. The smell of wisdom and advice.
Realtors know that vanilla is the aroma of comfort and baking and warmth. (Turn on an electric stove, let it get hot, and then turn it off again. When it has cooled down a bit, drip some vanilla extract on the burners and the house will smell delicious and inviting.) The smell of vanilla helps sell a home–or at least adds to its attractiveness, allows the purchaser to imagine the comforts of home.
As a boy, I associated vanilla with holidays–holidays where there was an abundance of food and drink. A creme soda from summer picnics, French toast when there were snow holidays from school, Christmas cookies, and scones with our tea.
From then ’till now, vanilla has only stirred positive emotions in me–comforting memories and wondrous fantasies.
And that is why I will always choose the white scoop with black specks over a bowl of lurid pistachio.