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The true story of vanilla

27 January 2018


We all know what vanilla is like. Reliably nice, reassuringly ordinary… perhaps a little safe? Think of ice cream flavours: when you can tuck in to rich chocolate, tangy fruit or aromatic peppermint, why would you choose plain old vanilla?

Image by Lukas Hochenleitter und Kompagnie

Well, for a start, vanilla is actually the world’s second most expensive spice after saffron and, like that prized powder, it’s surprisingly complex – chemists have identified 171 aromatic compounds that combine to make up its exquisite flavour. Its distinctive sweet fragrance has been found to lower stress levels and promote feelings of warmth, indulgence and euphoria: just the ingredient for Valentine’s Day.

And its origins are anything but boring. The vanilla used in cooking and confectionery comes from the pods and seeds of an orchid first grown in Mexico.

As the legend goes, once upon a time a beautiful princess from the Totonac people fell in love with an equally attractive young man. Alas, the girl’s parents had dedicated her to the local temple and when she and her beau attempted to elope, they were killed by priests. As the tragic couple’s blood mingled on the ground, the first vanilla orchid sprang forth.

In another version of the story, the princess became the vanilla orchid and her sweetheart was transformed into the bee that tenderly pollinates the flowers in the wild.

Apple Strudel

At Bettys, we use real vanilla seeds to flavour the rich, flowing caramel centres found in our Chocolate Heart Assortment and With Love Chocolate Selection. If you’re visiting one of our Café Tea Rooms for a Valentine’s treat, take your pick from the vanilla slices on our famous cake trolley, or enjoy vanilla anglaise, a light custard that makes a perfect pairing with our Warm Apple Strudel and Chocolate & Blackcurrant Bombe. And of course, if you’re feeling adventurous, we do vanilla ice cream too.

Posted in: Café Tea Rooms