The Ingredient That Makes French Vanilla Different From Regular Vanilla
By Elaina Friedman
The vanilla orchid was first discovered in the 15th century by the Totonacs of Mexico, and it was only a matter of time after the Aztecs conquered Totonac territory that vanilla, which is now the second most expensive spice in the world, would begin making its mark across Europe. As for French vanilla, much like the myths about French fries, the flavor isn't from France at all.
The bulk of today's vanilla supply comes from Madagascar, Mexico, Tahiti, and the island of Réunion — not France. Vanilla ice cream becomes "French" when egg yolks are added to the ice cream base, yielding a light yellow hue and a rich flavor.
French vanilla surely gets its name for its likeness to crème pâtissiere, or custard filling, which allegedly made its first appearance in François Massialot's "The Royal and Bourgeois Cook" in the late 17th century. Both French vanilla and yolk-free vanilla can be made with either "real" beans or vanilla extract, so it’s really just the egg yolks that make a difference.