How Did Vanilla Become a Byword for Blandness?

Ligaya Mishan, New York Times Style Magazine:

The path of vanilla to our table is less straightforward, and its provenance is often still elusive on commercial labels. But already you can find vanilla beans from Madagascar at Walmart and order beans and bottles for making homemade vanilla extract (alcohol not included) on Amazon. Small companies like VanillaPura and Native Vanilla offer rarer specimens online, from the Malabar Coast of India, the Amazon rainforest and the Mexican Yucatán; Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Uganda, Ecuador and Peru; and the islands of Comoros, Oahu, the Marquesas and Vanuatu. You are enticed with notes of toffee, guava, flowers, earth, ripeness, shimmer. In a word, the world.

I loved this article. A well-made floral vanilla ice cream is a beautiful thing. It is hard to believe such a delicate and complex ingredient became a synonym for boring or basic. It is even used in computing: if you are not using a JavaScript framework, you are writing “vanilla JavaScript”, for example.

I feel compelled to mention that most do-it-yourself vanilla “extract” recipes — like the one from King Arthur Baking, or Martha Stewart, or in this kit and others like it — make something closer to vanilla flavoured vodka instead of a true extract.