Under the Influence

Why plain old vanilla is the world's favourite ice cream flavour

The term “vanilla” is synonymous with boring, dull or bland. Yet a scoop of vanilla is the number one choice across the globe.
Vanilla is the bestselling ice cream flavour is in almost every country in the world. (Shutterstock)

Fortune magazine estimates the global ice cream market is over $70 billion, and will reach over $90 billion by 2027.

The average Canadian eats 4.4 litres or 1.16 gallons of ice cream per year. The average American eats 20.8 litres or 5.55 gallons per year. Can you guess what the best-selling ice cream flavour is in almost every country in the world?

That would be vanilla.

Vanilla has been the predominant flavour for over 200 years. Some research suggests chocolate and vanilla are neck and neck in Canada, but vanilla is the international king by far.

Vanilla is often seen as the safe, unexciting choice. Yet vanilla, to quote an ice cream expert, is a stunningly complex and subtle spice. Containing anywhere from 250 to 500 flavour and fragrance components. It is also the second-most expensive spice in the world.

Synthetic vanilla can be made from petrochemicals, or from a by-product of the pulp and paper industry. It can come from a component of clove oil. Or — hold onto your hat — it may be produced from castoreum, a molasses-like secretion from the anal glands of beavers.

Many of the other top ice cream flavours like Cookies 'N Cream and Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough are variations of vanilla.

Vanilla is popular because it doesn't get in the way of other flavours. It tastes great topped with whipped cream or fudge sauce in a sundae, with root beer in a float or on top of a warm slice of apple pie.

Vanilla is the world's favourite ice cream, despite the term "vanilla" also meaning boring, dull or bland.

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