116 - The Vanilla Conspiracy - Vocabulary

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Have you ever believed something was true for a long time, then found out it was a lie? I guess most people experienced this as children, when they discovered Santa wasn’t real. I always knew Santa was someone’s dad dressed up in a cheap red polyester costume in the middle of the Australian summer. But a few years ago I discovered everything I knew about vanilla was wrong. This may seem ridiculously frivolous, but let me explain. I’ve been cooking and baking since I could stand up on a chair in the kitchen alongside my mum. I love experimenting, testing recipes and discovering all sorts of new ingredients.

Even when I was living on a university student’s budget, I would happily go into my local gourmet food shop and ask for their softest, plumpest vanilla bean for my next recipe, despite the fact it cost an arm and a leg. As any good foodie learns from reading cookbooks and cooking magazines, the best vanilla should be flexible, squishy and fragrant. Leathery or dry beans are flavourless and bad quality, so say the best cooks in the world.

This is what I naïvely believed, until I went to visit the vanilla cooperative in Bras Panon. At first, everything was going well. We saw the vanilla plants growing, learnt about pollinisation and harvesting. But when we sat down to watch a short film about the vanilla maturation process, I nearly fell off my chair. The guide explained how it takes many months, even years to dry outthe pods, in order to develop the vanillin inside. According to this expert, the best quality vanilla is dry enough to tie in a knot, and should be odourless. Armed with this new information, I did some more research. As it turns out, the big, shiny and fragrant vanilla pods found at many markets are known as "vanille zoreil" or "vanille touriste."

Frequently, the pods are so fragrant because the vendors spray vanilla extract on their products to entice customers. Not only is this type of vanilla lacking in taste, it often becomes mouldy after being stored in the pantry. Since discovering this, I have a newfound love of vanilla. I’ve always cheered for the underdog, and knowing that the ugliest, leatheriest and least fragrant vanilla pods are the best quality makes me happy. I feel like the luckiest home baker to have access to some of the best vanilla in the world right on my doorstep.



true - vrai

lie - mensonge

Santa – père Noël

dressed up - déguisée

wrong - faux


to bake – faire la pâtisserie

plumpest - le plus dodu

despite - malgré

to cost an arm and a leg – coûter un bras

squishy - mou


leathery – comme du cuire

to harvest - cueillette

to fall off one's chair – tomber à nu

to dry out - sécher

to tie in a knot – faire un nœud


shiny - brillant

to entice - séduire

mouldy - moisi

pantry - placard

to cheer for the underdog - encourager l’outsider

doorstep - palier