I can't count the times I have heard that vanilla brings out the flavour of other foods. For example it "makes chocolate taste more chocolatey," etc... I have also heard that it's the only spice that does this (enhance the flavour of other spices/foods).

Is this true? If so, by what mechanism does it do this?

Here are some places online that mention this alleged property of vanilla without explaining how it works:

  • "Vanilla is used for its sweetness and its ability to enhance other flavors." (eHow)
  • "Vanilla delivers characteristic and complex flavor notes to hundreds of types of food. With fruit- and dairy-based products, it enhances flavor by cutting acid notes, bringing out creamy notes and rounding out flavor systems." (preparedfoods.com)
  • "Add vanilla to give new 'life' to flavorless seasonal fruits or other foods that need a flavor boost. Did you know that chocolate by itself tastes 'flat' which is why it usually contains vanilla?" (vanilla.com)
  • ...Chocolate simply wouldn’t taste like chocolate without vanilla. “Chocolate tends to be somewhat dull on its own. Vanilla transforms it,” says Patricia Rain, author of a new book, Vanilla: A Cultural History of the World’s Favorite Flavor & Fragrance. “Vanilla really enhances the flavor notes of chocolate,” agrees John Scharffenberger, CEO of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker in Berkeley, CA, where they prize vanilla so highly that they grind whole vanilla beans with cocoa nibs to make their chocolates.


  • "Vanilla is one of those ingredients, like salt and fat, that complements and brings out the flavor of other ingredients." (Wiki Answers)

  • 2
    I have never heard that about vanilla. Can you cite a reference? I would say that it can add depth to a dish, and can compliment flavors, but I'm skeptical if it can bring out flavors like I'm thinking salt does.
    – MStodd
    Jun 28, 2012 at 22:43
  • I wonder if I can add vanilla to a salty or spicy dish. I am going try this out on a mild coconut-heavy curry.
    – nalply
    Jul 28, 2012 at 10:33
  • Yes, vanilla can be used as a savoury spice. In fact I remember reading, in On Food and Cooking perhaps, that it is only recently that it began to be thought of as an exclusively sweet spice.
    – Swoogan
    Feb 6, 2014 at 17:07
  • 1
    Cardamom can be used to similar effect in a variety of foods that intersects vanillas range. Oddly enough mildish chili powder/paprika also serves as an enhancer to several spice combinations. Vanilla is far from unique in this property. Heck, Fish sauce. Jan 11, 2020 at 2:13

4 Answers 4


I'm not sure if there is a scientific explanation for this. I also think it's more that vanilla enhances the overall flavor profile of the dish rather than actually bringing out other flavors. Salt, on the other hand, does enhance flavors.

  • 2
    I don't understand your answer, what is the difference between "enhances the overall flavor profile of the dish" and "actually bringing out other flavors"?
    – rumtscho
    Jun 19, 2012 at 21:49
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    By "enhancing the overall flavor profile of the dish" I mean that it just adds more flavor and depth of flavor. By "actually bringing out the flavors" I mean that salt helps you taste other flavors. Jun 20, 2012 at 13:35

Vanilla does not "bring out the flavor of foods", it does pair well with most fruit, other sweets, creams, and some bitter things like coffee and chocolate. Vanilla, like any other flavoring, simply adds another layer of flavor, building depth and complexity. Beware of that imitation stuff - it can easily be overdone.


Vanilla is a flavor enhancer or modifier like all spices.

I can understand why it would be singled out as "the only one that does that" because it is so commonly used in many parts of the world. Salt held this lofty position in the past at the head of the table. Black pepper was also assigned many incredible properties when it was first brought to Europe. Vanilla gives a richer, fuller, more savory flavor to a dish, but there are other spices that can do that in a different way.

I like vanilla and use it in dishes most would not think, like Chili. But I have found nothing brings out the flavor of a decadent chocolate cake like the addition of a dark yeasty beer. I would not use vanilla in a citrus salad. And to chocolate I would say that it's the sugar and fat that makes it more "chocolatey".


Well it is like sugar it has not been proven but is easy to taste the difference that it does enhance the taste of other ingredients

  • Not only doesn't sugar enhance the taste of other ingredients, it masks/dampens it.
    – rumtscho
    Jun 21, 2012 at 11:49
  • Hmm according to the chief chef at Noma Copenhagen that ain't true Jun 21, 2012 at 12:10
  • Can you provide a reference?
    – talon8
    Jun 21, 2012 at 13:24
  • Unfortunaly he said in a TV-Show on DR (Danish Raido) - But I do not recall the title Jun 21, 2012 at 13:30
  • 1
    I'm guessing that he was actually talking about salt, which may have been misheard/misremembered as sugar.
    – Aaronut
    Jun 22, 2012 at 0:35

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