General English


  • noun
    (written as vanilla)
    a tropical climbing plant (Vanilla planiolia) which produces long pods, used for flavouring in confectionery


  • (written as vanilla)
    The seed pod of a vine, Vanilla planifolia, which can grow up to a height of 15 m. The pods are picked when unripe and go through a complex curing process which leaves the best pods narrow, dark brown, supple and long, coated with white crystals of vanillin, but this frosting can be faked. The flavour is mellow and the aroma fragrant and unmistakeable. It is used to flavour desserts and chocolate. Synthetic vanillin is widely available and is used in most manufactured goods. It has a heavier odour and a disagreeable aftertaste.


  • adjective
    (written as vanilla)
    innocuous, orthodox. The adjective was applied, from the early 1980s, to otherwise illicit behaviour such as ‘vanilla lesbian(ism)’, ‘vanilla sex’, etc.


  • an aroma in a wine usually due to ageing the wine in new oak barrels

Origin & History of “vanilla ”

A vanilla pod is etymologically a ‘little vagina’. The word was borrowed from Spanish vainilla, a diminutive form of vaina ‘sheath’ (the pod was so named because of its sheath-like shape). Vaina was descended from Latin vāgīna ‘sheath’, which came to be jokingly applied to the ‘female reproductive passage’ – hence English vagina (17th c.).