8 Fun Facts About Vanilla

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on August 14, 2014
From the WebMD Archives

You know that vanilla is oh-so-delicious, but did you also know that it’s rare and expensive? Here are some surprising facts, plus a recipe for vanilla panna cotta.

  1. Vanilla is the only fruit-bearing member of the orchid family.
  2. The flower that produces the vanilla bean lasts only one day. The beans are hand-picked and then cured, wrapped, and dried in a process that takes 4 to 6 months.
  3. After saffron, vanilla is the most expensive spice in the world.
  4. In Europe, vanilla was once used in the production of certain medicines such as nerve stimulants and as an aphrodisiac.
  5. Pure vanilla extract contains 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon during extraction, according to FDA specifications.
  6. Nearly 30% of Americans choose vanilla as their No. 1 ice cream flavor. Chocolate ranks second, with less than 10% of the vote.
  7. Only the melipona bee, found in Central America, can pollinate vanilla. In other parts of the world, humans duplicate the process using a wooden needle.
  8. One tablespoon of vanilla extract has 37 calories, a large portion of which comes from sugars and alcohol.

One tablespoon of vanilla extract has 37 calories, a large portion of which comes from sugars and alcohol.

Recipe: Vanilla Panna Cotta

Makes 4 servings


1 1-ounce envelope unflavored gelatin

1 cup and 1/3 cup whole milk, divided

1 cup fat-free half-and-half

6 Tbsp sugar

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (can substitute 1 tsp vanilla extract added after custard is removed from heat)

cooking spray

1 mango

2 Tbsp chopped pistachios


1. Sprinkle gelatin over 1/3 cup milk in a small bowl and let stand 5 minutes until thickened.

2. Combine remaining milk, half-and-half, sugar, and vanilla bean in heavy-bottomed saucepan and bring to a simmer (do not boil) over medium-low heat. Remove from heat, remove vanilla bean, and add gelatin mixture.

3. Stir until gelatin mixture is completely dissolved.

4. Pour mixture into individual ramekins coated with cooking spray.

5. Cover and chill until set (about 6 to 8 hours).

6. Peel and chop mango into bite-size pieces.

7. Invert ramekins on individual plates. Garnish with mango and pistachios.

Per serving: 223 calories, 7 g protein, 36 g carbohydrate, 7 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 11 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 32 g sugar, 117 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 26%

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SOURCES: "Vanilla." "Vanilla." "Vanilla."

Bee Culture: "Crop Plants and Export Plans: Vanilla."

Nutrition Data: "Vanilla Extract."

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