Dear Kid,

Did you know that vanilla is the most popular flavor of cake and ice cream in the US? ‘Tis true.

Happy Birthday, Daddy!

And to celebrate, we’re talking about vanilla. (I’m talking. You’re reading.)

Vanilla is the only fruit-bearing member of the orchid family. You read that correctly—the vanilla bean is a fruit and an orchid. So you could give vanilla as a corsage.

But only if you’re very clever, because the flower that produces the vanilla bean only last one day. One. Not only does the flower zip through life, it’s finicky about the insects it hangs out with. Only the melipona bee can pollinate vanilla (which seems a little standoffish to me, but then I’m not a flower).

Vanilla vines grow grow 30 – 50 feet tall (which is taller than most humans—harvesting is a job for flying monkeys) and since they’re vines, they hug trees or posts for support.

There are over 150 varieties of vanilla plants.

Soil and water have a huge impact on the taste of the vanilla, meaning the same vine grown in different places will produce beans that taste different.

Drying vanilla beans takes 4 to 6 months. All of which means that vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world. Extra points if you know what’s number 1.

Speaking of second, vanilla is the second most labor intensive agricultural crop. The only thing I can thank of that is more labor intensive is Dad’s tomato crop.

Pure vanilla extract contains (wait for it) 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon. (You should take notes. This will be on the test.)

A few drops of vanilla will cut the acidity of tomato-based foods. (How cool is that?)

Spiders don’t like vanilla (which only reinforces my opinion of arachnids). Whole vanilla beans will drive them away.

Humans find the scent of vanilla relaxing. Unless there is cake and ice cream, in which case it is the opposite of relaxing.

Sometimes vanilla bean farmers “tattoo” their beans with small markings (made with toothpick-sized instruments) to prevent theft. No word on whether the beans get any say about what their tats are.

There is currently a vanilla bean crisis (yes, crisis I tell you) which has led to a severe shortage of vanilla. Many products use synthetic vanilla which, um, synthetic.

Happy vanilla.

Love, Mom

Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world.