Like Fries And Toast, French Vanilla Isn't Actually From France

Vanilla ice cream gets a lot of flak for being basic or boring — the base for more interesting ice cream flavors like chocolate chip or cookies and cream. But the truth is that vanilla is one of the more interesting flavor profiles out there. Have you ever stopped and thought about the fact that no two vanilla ice creams are the same color? (Can chocolate say that?) Vanilla bean is white with tiny, dark specs; plain vanilla is pure white, while French vanilla has more of a yellow tone to it. So what gives?

The vanilla flavor comes from the vanilla orchid which produces vanilla beans (which are actually the seed pods of the plant!) While it's entirely doable to create an artificial vanilla flavor, vanilla made from vanilla beans is just as common. While most varieties of vanilla are named for where they come from (like Tahitian vanilla ), there isn't a single vanilla orchid variety that comes from France. So what exactly is French vanilla?

Is French vanilla really French?

It turns out that the term, French vanilla has nothing to do with where the plant comes from, but more to do with how the ice cream was traditionally made in France. Like many French delicacies, French vanilla ice cream begins with a custard base, where egg yolks are mixed with milk or cream. The yolks give French vanilla its signature golden hue, and a richer consistency due to the thicker base. Vanilla ice cream that is made sans egg yolks is called Philadelphia style, which starts solely with a cream base. French vanilla ice cream gains a luscious consistency from the custard base which means that it requires less vanilla flavor than if you're beginning simply with cream. For this reason, French vanilla is considered more flavorful and less, well, vanilla.

While the term French vanilla is exclusive to a technique not an actual type of flavor, one should be wary of anything that claims to be "French vanilla flavored" — as it's most likely a marketing trick. See how interesting vanilla really is? When you really think about it, it's anything but boring.