Vanilla beans are the seed pod of the climbing orchid, originally from southern Mexico. When the Spanish arrived in Central and South America, the Aztecs were already using vanilla as a flavoring agent for drinks. Vanilla beans have a rich, sweet flavor. They are grown in Madagascar, Comoro, and the Reunion Islands.
Vanilla is a great flavoring for chocolate, coffee, ice cream, cakes, cookies, fruit desserts, and most sweet dishes. Surprisingly, a small amount of vanilla is good with certain rich dishes such as lobster or veal. The beans are added to the food and then removed prior to serving.