Some ice cream around here is marketed as the flavor "Mexican vanilla".

It seems sweeter and has obvious vanilla seeds (or something that looks similar). Is there a type of vanilla pod that is uniquely Mexican? Or does the flavor mean "vanilla in a Mexican style" and refer to some technique?

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    I'm a little confused what everyone is talking about because vanilla is native to Mexico. Just Google Vanilla origin. The Toltecs were the first to cultivate it. The Spaniards later introduced it to Europe.
    – user17628
    Apr 2, 2013 at 18:36
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    @John We're talking about what's currently produced and sold, not the origins of vanilla. There's vanilla which is produced in Mexico and sold as Mexican vanilla, and it is not necessarily the same thing as what's produced elsewhere.
    – Cascabel
    Apr 2, 2013 at 18:55
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    Obviously not all coffee taste the same, so why would all vanilla? I had brownies made with Mexican vanilla and they were the best ever!! I had no idea there were SO MANY differences ... So now I'm trying to find that great taste that was attributed to "Mexican vanilla" ... Clearly a different tasty from reg vanilla.
    – user43725
    Feb 25, 2016 at 19:41
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    Interesting... I had assumed this was about the extract, as Mexican vanilla extract tends to be twice as concentrated with vanilla flavor vs standard extract. I like this discussion better than the one I imagined. Sep 23, 2016 at 15:33

6 Answers 6


There are several distinct species of the vanilla orchid used for food flavouring, the most common being vanilla planifolia, vanilla tahitiensis and vanilla pompona (in that order).

Vanilla planifolia is usually marketed as "Bourbon vanilla", most of which is grown in Indonesia and Madagascar. The same species is also grown in Mexico, but they have decided to call it "Mexican vanilla", which is purely a marketing designation. At least the Mexicans claim their vanilla to be of superior quality, but the vanilla extracts sold in Mexico are often stretched with tonka bean extract, which has a similar taste and aroma to vanilla, but contains coumarin, which is banned as a food additive by the US Food & Drug Administration. Other countries have less strict regulations, often only regulating a maximum coumarin content.

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    Plants being the same species doesn't really tell you anything about whether they have the same flavor. (Cauliflower and kale are the same species.) Even being the same cultivar doesn't necessarily mean that the flavor is the same. (To pick a couple examples, onions and wine grapes have very different flavors depending on where they were grown.)
    – Cascabel
    Jun 20, 2012 at 1:59
  • @Jefrome: Of course both climate and the soil can have impact on the plants. I am however pretty sure that you can find larger differences between vanilla from e.g. two different Malagasy farms or two different Mexican farms than any general difference between Mexican vanilla or vanilla from any other country. Jun 20, 2012 at 16:02
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    I guess I just think it takes a bit of justification to say that it's purely a marketing designation, when it seems quite plausible that there would be real differences. Your comment is a start at that.
    – Cascabel
    Jun 20, 2012 at 17:57

According to my favorite source of spices, Penzeys, there is a difference between Madagascar Vanilla

Regarded as the world's best, Madagascar beans set the standard for prime vanilla flavor.

and Mexican Vanilla

Mexican beans, while similar to Madagascar, have a darker flavor that is perfect for vanilla liqueur and coffee drinks.


Vanilla "beans" or pods go through an extensive process to give the flavor you know. One of the main differences in vanilla produced in various regions is the tweaking of this process.

First, vanilla is heated to kill the pod to prevent sugar from turning to starch, and to break down cell walls. After this is a repeated process of exposure to sun and wrapping in cloth--this stage develops vanillin, the main flavor component. Lastly, the pods are straightened and dried to further develop flavor. It is in this last stage that mexican vanilla differs most significantly--whereas vanilla from Madagascar may take about 5 weeks, Mexican vanilla will cure for several months.

  • This sounds interesting but it kind of conflicts with other answers that say that Mexican vanilla is cheaper quality. Do you have references for this? Jun 22, 2012 at 16:19
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    Yes--straight from Harold McGee's "On Food and Cooking" (pages 431-432)
    – Ray
    Jun 22, 2012 at 18:01
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    I don't think this answer contradicts e.g., that of Tor-Einar Jarnbjo. That the bean may be of generally higher quality does not imply that there are no less-than-scrupulous extract-makers adulterating the extract.
    – Ray
    Jun 22, 2012 at 18:13
  • @Ray- I agree that those statements independently don't contradict but as answers to my question one is "it's better" and one is "it's worse." Jun 22, 2012 at 19:49

Real Vanilla, Is picked then smoke dried. This gives each its own flavor depending on what wood smoked with. Mexico also smoke dries there Vanilla. I forget what wood is used there for this. To give it the taste of Mexico. Were I live in the spice islands we go to 3 or 4 different farms to buy ours as each farm will use a different smoke to dry it. So different flavor from each farm. A little different taste from each farm. We mostly raise the same bean as is raised in Mexico were I live. What they are calling Mexican vanilla today may be different. Or a different bean today. Been to many years back last I worked with that.

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    Mexican vanilla is bold dark & smoky Unlike Madagascar or India vanilla more light in taste & flavor. Beans can take 4 months to dry. Smoking lowers the time took. Mousture needs be below 30% in vanilla. So it is smoke dried.
    – J Bergen
    Nov 19, 2017 at 18:29

All the vanilla beans cultivated around the world come from MEXICO and where transplanted to Madagascar, Indonesia, Reunion, Tonga, Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, Reunion, etc, etc. They go by the name Vanilla Planifolia but it's really "Mansa" meaning "Domesticated" in Spanish. Pompona is a cross originated in Mexico in the early 1900's with the idea of increasing the vanillin content. Vanilla Tahitensis is a subspecies like Pompona with low vanillin yield. That is why the Vanilla Planifolia was called Vanilla Planifolia and under in the old text books they wrote in parenthesis ................... (The True Vanilla) and it originated in Mexico and no where else. So what is the different between the Mexican and the one's grown in Madagascar, Papua New Guinea? 0, nada, nothing. Quality vanilla beans comes when you grow the vine on rich soil and with good farm practices (not crowding the vines, water/moist environment and the right shade/sun). BUT, the most important part of the process is WHEN to cut the bean from the vine. This has to be done bean by bean when yellow at the tip (this is how nature tells that the bean is fully matured "the vanillin inside" is ready for further process). The 2nd part is the drying/curing process again if the bean has been cut when yellow at the tip not only will you get higher vanillin (2.%+) but also the process of curing will be shorter (vanillin is a natural preservative). Also there will be very little loss beans due to mold which occurs more often when the beans are cut "green" instead of yellow at the tip. Please note that drying and curing go together after that you get "the maturing in the boxes" which could last up to nine months before releasing to market. You could get a beautiful plum bean but it could have very little vanillin count just because it was cut before it's maturity. So, is not about where the vanilla beans are grown but about when they where cut. The quality of the vanilla bean can be measured by it's vanillin content in the lab. The higher the vanillin count is the result of all of the above. Vanilla is really an orquid and the vine and the resulting orquids grown better in a "canopy environment" that is where the toll trees cover and protect from the sun and the rain creating a "moist hot, cooking" perfect growing environment that is why is so important to protect the forest/jungle. The best vanilla beans come not from plantations but from "home farm" where the beans are cut one by one when yellow at the tip/fully matured and cured by the same farm family. To make vanilla extract you need 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans, 35% alcohol and water. Sincerely, Juan J. San Mames President Vanilla, Saffron Imports www.saffron.com

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    By that logic all coffee would be "Ethiopian" or "Kenyan" coffee, as coffee originated in North Africa. Clearly the terroir makes a difference when growing crops like this, so it's worth noting where they were grown.
    – SourDoh
    Jan 1, 2014 at 11:35

The differences of things like these are often the price. Calling it something special just means that they then can get people to pay more. The quality needed usually depends on how it will be used. If it will be buried in a recipe then use anything but if it will be one of the stars of the dish then use the one you like best.

  • Hello, and welcome to Stack Exchange. It's true that price is often used to signal quality to the gullible, but in this case there is indeed a real difference between Mexican vanilla and generic (for the US) vanilla. Aug 8, 2016 at 18:31

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