The kitchen would be a very sad place without vanilla. I buy vanilla in large quantities and I am very picky about which vanillas I purchase. I prefer Nielsen-Massey and buy the Madagascar Bourbon vanilla for every day use. I buy it in 32 ounce bottles. I am serious about my love of vanilla! I even make my own vanilla using rum and vanilla beans. It is safe to say I am crazy about vanilla. One of my all time favorite comfort foods is homemade vanilla pudding.
So why the love of vanilla, you ask? Would we have chocolate if the Aztecs hadn't decided to blend vanilla with cacao? Would we have chocolate if Cortez had not fallen in love with this Aztec blend of cacao beans and vanilla? I can't even think about a world without chocolate!
The orchids responsible for vanilla won't produce beans just anywhere, as those attempting to bring vanilla to the world found out. Vanilla "started" in Mexico where a specific bee and hummingbird were responsible for its pollination. In Madagascar, in what used to be know as the Bourbon Islands (and you thought it contained bourbon!), it was discovered that the flowers could be pollinated by hand, and hte rest is history. 75% of the commercial vanilla used today comes from Madagascar.
Mexican Vanilla is relatively scarce because its habitat has been reduced. Some people think that Mexican vanilla is the best because of its complex flavor. I admit, I do love its flavor! Tahitian vanilla is one that I really like, too. It has a flowery flavor and is simply yummy. I use Tahitian vanilla when vanilla is the center of attention in the dessert. Tahitian vanilla does not stand up to heat like other vanillas, so keep that in mind when choosing it. I always have Tahitian and Mexican vanilla on hand because one never knows when a vanilla occasion will pop up. It would be a shame not to have the proper vanilla on hand!