As I look back—covering parts of seven decades—no flavor has been surrounded with more controversy than vanilla. Vanilla was once considered to be number one in popularity but I very much doubt if it is still the favorite. On my recent volunteer projects to Egypt and Columbia, it was disappointing to see vanilla as a minor flavor in their lines. There was little true vanilla in these countries; that might explain its lack of popularity In my opinion, commercial vanillas sold in the United States, for the most part, have not deserved the number one spot for some time.
My first full-time position in flavors was at the Drew Corporation of America (long defunct, its assets purchased by Virginia Dare some time back). Vanilla was their principal product and there I fell in love with the rich flavor of true vanilla.
How would one describe this unique richness? If vanillin, the characterizing flavor component of cured vanilla beans, is a flute solo then pure vanilla flavor, properly cured and extracted, is like a complete symphony orchestra. Like a symphony orchestra, it has the ability to enhance the performance of the voice or any instrument without detracting anything from the soloist. However, the need to be competitive has resulted in practices that dilute the flavor potential of the real thing.