Vanilla Retains Its Spot as a Holiday Staple

Vanilla is one of the most widely used flavors in the world. A perennial favorite in sweet treats like ice cream and cupcakes, it’s also used as a back note in savory sauces and as a natural masking flavor in sports nutrition products. Here’s everything you need to know about vanilla flavor.

Current Trends in Vanilla Flavor

With many consumers stuck at home and feeling stressed due to the COVID-19 situation, demand for comfort foods has been rising. And now with the holidays approaching, they have an excuse to indulge. Holiday cookies, ice creams, puddings, and decadent hot beverages are all delicious ways to showcase vanilla. ‘Tis also the season for popular warm spice pairings like vanilla and cinnamon. 

Besides being a beloved, nostalgic flavor, vanilla also resonates with consumers as a natural ingredient—something they could find in their own pantry, an ingredient they can trust. Some manufacturers are building upon this association by featuring organic and fairtrade vanilla. Another trend in vanilla is specifying its origin—for example, Tahitian or Mexican. This can elevate a product by offering a slightly different flavor profile, addressing consumer trends in premiumization and taste adventure.

vanilla flavor cake

A Brief History of Vanilla

Vanilla’s history as a flavoring dates back to the ancient Mayans, who used vanilla along with cacao and other spices to make a thick, frothy cocoa beverage. The wild orchids that produced the fruit we refer to as vanilla beans were eventually cultivated. By the time the Spanish conquistadors arrived, the vanilla crop was an integral part of the local economy. 

The conquistadors introduced vanilla (and cacao) to Europe in the early 1500s. Ironically, for the next three hundred years, these beautiful orchids planted in gardens throughout England and France would not produce any fruit. Ultimately, it was discovered that Europe lacked the plant’s natural pollinator. To this day, hand pollination is required to grow vanilla beans. 

Today, approximately 80 percent of the world's vanilla supply is grown in Madagascar, with additional sources of vanilla being Mexico and Tahiti.

How Vanilla Is Used Today

Vanilla is a highly versatile flavor that works well as a characterizing flavor and in pairings with other flavors—especially chocolate, coffee, maple, honey, and nuts. Besides sweet brown notes, vanilla can be used with fruit flavors like coconut, cherry, raspberry, and banana, as well as herbs and spices such as lavender and cardamom. A lesser-known use of vanilla is to enhance the flavor of meat and vegetable dishes, typically via sauces or seasonings.

While dairy desserts, sweet baked goods, and beverages are some of the top applications for vanilla flavor, it can be found in a wide variety of products. Products that use vanilla flavor include:

  • Ice cream, milkshakes, and whipped cream
  • Plant-based milks and ice cream
  • Yogurt and pudding
  • Cakes and pastries
  • Frosting, icing, and pastry fillings
  • Confections
  • Breakfast cereals and snack bars
  • Sports protein bars, powders, and RTD beverages
  • Hot cocoa, teas, and coffees 
  • Soft drinks, energy drinks, and flavored waters
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Tomato and barbecue sauces
  • Meat rubs and seasonings
bowl of vanilla

Vanilla for Flavor Masking

Even when vanilla is not the star of the show, it can play an important role behind the scenes with its ability to smooth out flavors. It can be used to tone down an acidic tomato sauce or to mask bitter notes from functional ingredients. The sports nutrition category, in particular, can benefit from vanilla’s flavor masking ability. Vanilla works as a natural flavor masker to cover off notes from vitamins, minerals, caffeine, botanicals, plant proteins, and more.  

Collaborate with Us for Winning Flavor

Whether you’re looking for the traditional vanilla taste of an indulgent dessert or a premium vanilla for product differentiation, Glanbia Nutritionals has you covered. We have an extensive portfolio of vanilla profiles for you to explore, each with the delicious richness and complexity that makes vanilla a consumer favorite.
We’re also known for our custom flavors and bitter masking solutions, with expertise in flavoring and masking protein, plant-based ingredients, vitamins, and minerals. Collaborate with us to meet the indulgent flavor trends of today!

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