Gift guide


Vanilla: A Cultural History of the World's Favorite Flavor & Fragrance

by Patricia Rain

Tarcher, 372 pp., $22.95

Just about everyone instantly recognizes the flavor and aroma of vanilla, but most people don't realize that natural vanilla comes from the fruit of a climbing orchid, or that it has recently surpassed saffron as the world's most expensive spice. Patricia Rain, who has dedicated much of her life to the study of vanilla, is a culinary historian and lecturer, vanilla broker (, and longtime advocate for small vanilla growers worldwide. From this multifaceted expertise, she's written a compelling and readable account of the history, anthropology, and complicated politics surrounding this most popular of flavorings. Topics include the peculiar botanical attributes of the vanilla orchid; its uses in medicine, aphrodisiacs, and perfumes; the 17th-century Jewish vanilla traders of the Caribbean; and Thomas Jefferson's introduction of vanilla ice cream (via France) to the United States. Rain intersperses sweet and savory vanilla recipes that illustrate the text.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More by MM Pack
There and Back Again
There and Back Again
NYC chef Tien Ho returns to Austin

April 1, 2016

Speaking Volumes
Speaking Volumes
The secret history of Austin's First Cookbook

March 6, 2015

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle