Vanilla gets a bad rap. Or at least a boring one. People who like vanilla ice cream are assumed to be dull and unadventurous. And then we use vanilla as a metaphor for unaffected “normal-ness” from conventional sexuality to “non-ethnic” white people (I’ve heard that’s a thing. Apparently only some people have ethnicities). Vanilla is the neutral, the reference point, the plain background against which we identify the exotic, the other, the flavor. We see chocolate, strawberry, mint, and caramel as real flavors, but vanilla more as a lack of flavor.
That’s wrong. Lets look at a picture of some vanilla beans, shall we?
For one, they’re not even white. Sure vanilla ice cream is pretty much white, but that’s because of the low concentration. Vanilla is such a strong, potent flavor that a little goes a long way.
Which pretty much ruins the myth that vanilla is plain or boring. If you want further evidence, try drinking pure vanilla extract and try to tell me you don’t taste anything. (But don’t overdo it: vanilla has a high alcohol concentration!)
Looking from a historical perspective, let’s note that vanilla was originally used by the Totonac people of present-day Mexico as part of religious rituals and later by the Aztecs as an aphrodisiac (yup, the phrase “vanilla sex” would have had some different connotations). Conquistadors brought some back because it was seen as an exotic, foreign flavor. Like chocolate.
You can like vanilla or not. But recognize that it is a thing, a real flavor. It’s not plain or neutral or normal. There is no plain* and no neutral and especially no normal. If you choose to view part of the world as just the background, you end up missing a lot.
* I have actually made plain, unflavored ice cream, and it’s awful. Still, I guess even that has a flavor, since it tastes like milk. It’s really not worth it though.