It is a much-maligned flavor, a word used to indicate blandness or banality, as though it is a pleasure-less humdrum insult to one’s oh-so-refined tastes regardless of what contextual table is being set. It is all too often a “lifestyle” designation. A unit of language not so much spoken as spat, a one-up measure used to other-ize, to the point where those on the receiving end of its pursed-lip condescension feel the need to apologize for their flavor, or – worse – begin to believe that nobody will ever find their particular vanilla-y taste appealing.
“I’m pretty vanilla” is often accompanied by an apologetic shrug; “I’m sorry I’m so vanilla” is said with a cringing self-effacing tone meant to pre-emptively deflect ridicule. I have heard a countless number of these remorseful defenses in recent years, and it’s an enlightening commentary on the elitism too often found in members of certain self-described non-vanilla communities that this continues to happen.
If you are one of the people for whom such regretful rejoinders have become second nature, this message is for you: Vanilla is a lot of things (I’ll get to some of them in a moment), but it is nothing – NOTHING – to apologize for.
The pronunciation alone is a delightful sensation: the vibration of teeth against lip, the vowelized puff of breath pushing past enamel and aperture, the tap dance of tongue ‘n’-ing then ‘l’-ing against palate.
The term that’s used as a substitute for ‘uninteresting’ is anything but.
It is the cool glide of cold cream melting in your mouth on a relentlessly hot summer’s day, the smooth rich swirl that shapes clouds in your coffee, softening the blow of a chilly winter morning. It is subtle sweetness and fragrant mild, its taste and scent each equal parts sturdy and malleable. Vanilla extract is a necessary ingredient in the richest of culinary cacao delectables and its essence enhances all manner of spiced delights. It is the calm counterpoint to tempestuous tart, the juxtaposing component required in tangy pairings, guaranteed to delight the taste buds.
Vanilla is the middle note of numerous perfumes, its amicable pliable-ness the give needed to offset the overpowering take of more forceful fragrances. It is non-discriminatory in its affability; it glides over sensory receptors like a balm, mixing equally well with citrus as it does with lavender, with sandalwood and jasmine as sea air, cinnamon, lilac, and pine. Wakefulness, arousal, relaxation… It caresses the senses, evoking all manner of pleasure.
Both base and additive, climax and denouement; it is both cashmere and satin, sweater and lingerie, soft warmth over a sexy scrap of silk. Vanilla is a stalwartly dependable piquant surprise, and as flavors go, it’s damn near my favorite.
So if you’re about to tell me you’re vanilla: Save your apology. Instead…
Come here, please.
I think I need to taste you.