Vanilla is more complicated than you think. Sure, vanilla is a flavor everyone refers to as “plain”, and it’s a flavor many people know and love. But there’s more to it than meets the eye.

If I asked you to describe what vanilla tastes like, could you do it? Go on…give it a try! 🍨

You might say it’s sweet or creamy – but would you ever use terms like “phenolic”, “caramelic”, or “sweet brown”? Our flavorists at Givaudan are equal parts chemist, mad scientist, and artist – so we asked them to help us define and describe “vanilla”, and they had a lot to say.

scientist wearing googles standing behind a puff of smoke

What is Vanilla’s Taste?

They gave us descriptors that were expected, like “vanillic”, “vanilla bean”, and “creamy buttery”…then they started to talk about ones like “rummy”, “spicy sweet”, and even “magic”! Starting to see why making something taste like vanilla isn’t so easy?

Vanilla is tied to many emotions – most of which are rooted in our childhood, so it’s important to get it right. Understanding the complicated process of how vanilla beans are harvested and what impact sourcing has on taste is crucial. Most consumers don’t even know that Madagascar and Bourbon vanillas are synonymous. They associate Madagascar vanilla with claims like “natural”, “good for me”, and “wholesome” more so than Bourbon vanilla. (P.S. there’s no alcohol in Bourbon vanilla.) Consumers think it’s most important to get vanilla profiles right in ice cream applications, versus others like milk or yogurt.

So, how do you know which vanilla profiles fit best in certain applications? Glad you asked! There are food scientists and flavorists who have dedicated their careers to developing vanilla flavors, and we happen to know a few. 😉


If you’ve got vanilla on the brain, talk to your Givaudan Account Manager and discover why vanilla isn’t so plain after all.

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