Vanilla is a popular flavoring. Sometimes it's used by itself; sometimes it serves as a base and enhances other flavors.
Vanilla beans are soaked in alcohol to bring out the flavor.
The term "vanilla" is often used to mean plain, common or unexciting. But vanilla is a rich flavor and a good platform for making other flavors come out stronger than they would without it.
Vanilla beans come from the vanilla orchid. It's hard to grow and fertilize properly. Growing the beans and making vanilla flavoring is a labor intensive and so expensive process. It's still one of the most popular flavorings, but artificial flavors are also created by combining vanillin, one of the chemicals found in vanilla that can be created from other materials, with other ingredients. This results in a similar flavor, but one that many people do not consider to be quite as good because it's missing many of the other subtle flavors found in natural vanilla.
- Wikipedia's article on vanilla
- Neilsen-Massey Vanillas company on The History of Vanilla