What Happened To Vanilla?

By MamaLiberty

OK folks, I realize that this is totally unimportant, given the state of the country and all of the obvious evil and suffering in the world, but I’m having a hard time dealing with much of that this morning so I was thinking of other things…

My first cup of coffee is almost always just perfect, since I grind my own beans fresh, but since I’m frugal (yes, “scotch”), I make two cups at a time. The second cup tends to be old and cold after four hours, so I reheat it in the microwave. It has a funny taste black, so I add a little vanilla flavoring sometimes along with some half and half.  But it isn’t very satisfying these days.

What happened to the flavor of vanilla? I remember clearly the wonderful sweet, wholesome fragrance each time the bottle was opened in my mother’s kitchen. The taste was sweet and clean, exotically floral even, a real comfort flavor. I remember the same smell and taste as I baked and cooked for my little family in the early years.

I can’t remember when it changed….

Now there is little to indicate that “vanilla” is at all related to that ghostly memory. I find myself using less and less of it as the years go by. I’ve bought every kind imaginable, from the cheapest to the most expensive. I’ve purchased pure vanilla extract in a dozen forms, and even tried raw, whole vanilla bean.

Some time ago I realized that even commercial products that are supposedly “vanilla” flavored don’t taste like real vanilla now. They are sweet, probably much sweeter with sugar than they ever were, but the best of the “sweet” isn’t the vanilla flavor anymore. “Vanilla” cookies taste like sugared lard and cardboard. I don’t buy them, but stupidly tried one at the library open house last month.

None of it smells or tastes anything like I remember. So, is it the vanilla that has changed, or my perception of it? Oranges still taste like oranges, and even the imitation does a pretty good job of tasting like oranges. Same for coconut, chocolate and everything else I can think of. Taste imitation vanilla flavor, as well as those with real vanilla extract included, and even the pure vanilla extract for yourself… do they all taste more or less like motor oil smells to you?

At least the question might distract you a few moments from the blood and circus in NYC or France…

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10 Responses to What Happened To Vanilla?

  1. Robert Evans says:

    From Wikipedia: Higher-grade fruits command higher prices in the market. However, because grade is so dependent on visual appearance and moisture content, fruits with the highest grade do not necessarily contain the highest concentration of characteristic flavor molecules such as vanillin, and are not necessarily the most flavorful.

    In other words, the same thing that happened with Red Delicious Apples: flavor was sacrificed for visual appeal. A Red Delicious Apple found in the modern supermarket looks gorgeous, but generally tastes rather bland, with many other apple cultivars having better taste profiles. The same thing appears to have happened with vanilla, so your belief that modern vanilla isn’t as flavorful as formerly is probably correct.

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    • MamaLiberty says:

      Vanilla is a very interesting thing, made from the seed pods of an orchid. No way to know if the plants have been changed any, but I doubt it. Vanilla pods would not present the same shipping challenges as apples, obviously. Not sure who came up with the “Red Delicious,” but I think they taste terrible. So do my grandsons, and they are not the least discriminating when it comes to food. Can’t imagine why anyone would prefer them after the first taste. Yet, evidently some do because nobody would buy them otherwise.

      I’m sure there are a lot of different factors involved, and there is only one simple answer… the free market.

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  2. Daniel Wiener says:

    My taste buds probably aren’t too discerning, but a couple of weeks ago I did have some “double vanilla” ice cream from Ralphs along with Sandi’s homemade apple pie, and it tasted pretty good to me.

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    • MamaLiberty says:

      Oh, I don’t doubt that the real vanilly is around somewhere. I don’t buy much prepared, prepackaged food, and never buy ice cream, so I have not come across the good stuff in a long time. It’s just that what I’ve bought in the way of flavoring, and even the real vanilla beans isn’t anything like the vanilla I remember. And not just a little different, seriously different. I opened my little bottle of vanilla extract, not immitation, and it smells like mostly nothing. That just isn’t right!

      Don’t have an answer…

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  3. Bear says:

    Aging, darn it. Taste buds start dying off around 50 or so, and sense of taste shifts. Also, I strongly suspect that with the government setting minimum legal concentrations for the vanilla in vanilla extract, companies used to be higher concentration now go for the bare minimum to improve their profit margin.

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    • MamaLiberty says:

      Could be, but I don’t think so. Everything else pretty much tastes as I expect it to. And it doesn’t matter how much of the vanilla flavoring I use… so I doubt the concentrtation is the whole problem either. Nope… something definitely rotten in vanillaville. sigh

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  4. Dan Tilley says:

    How about your just getting older (like me) and your taste buds aren’t functioning like they did when you were younger (like lovemaking). It’s just human!

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    • MamaLiberty says:

      Could be… but why does orange flavor still taste like oranges? Everything else pretty much tastes as I expect it to… just not vanilla. I think there is more to it than just my age. I have never smoked and don’t drink, so I suspect my taste buds are still in pretty good shape besides. 🙂

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  5. Matt says:

    The vanilla is probably changing. Artifical extract is just chemicals that simulate the flavor so don’t taste right. As for the real vanilla extracts, they are probably processing the dickens out of the vanilla bean to get the last molecule out of it and killing the flavors in the process. The plants too are probably being GMO’s, over tended, forced to grow in order to get higher yields and bigger profits with no thought or care for the actual flavor. Can you find any that is certified organic?

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    • MamaLiberty says:

      Yes, tried the “organic” route too and saw no difference. I don’t buy the whole “organic” thing anyway, and see no problem with genetic manipulation as such. There is always the potential for misuse and abuse, of course, but I don’t see that generally. Changes in lots of food products have been subtle and very gradual, I think. Just can’t imagine why vanilla seems to be a standout example – and so few people seem to notice. Even I didn’t notice it much until the last few years.

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