Vanilla ice cream is by far my favorite flavor - yes, I know I'm boring - and I often tell my friends that french vanilla ice cream tastes better than regular vanilla, without knowing the difference between them or even why they taste difference. So, I decided to look into the comparison of vanilla vs french vanilla.

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Kirsten Andersen

What I realized when doing this research was that vanilla vs french vanilla comes down to more than just the number black specks you see in the ice cream. Vanilla bean varieties are often named for the areas that they are produced in - this is where you get the names like Madagascar, Tahiti and Mexico.

French vanilla, in fact, is not named for where it's produced - so don't assume that the vanilla in the product actually comes from France. French vanilla is called 'french' vanilla because the base of the ice cream contains egg yolks, while the base of regular vanilla ice cream does not.

The egg yolks are what give french vanilla its pale-yellow color, and also gives it a richer and smoother consistency. Regular vanilla ice cream, because it does not have egg yolks in it, has a whiter, paler look. This style of ice cream is also sometimes described as 'Philadelphia style'.  

What? French Vanilla Beans Don't Exist?

Yes, in fact, there is no such thing as a French vanilla bean. Vanilla beans come from orchids, and originally came from Mesoamerica, though variations on the vanilla orchid have now scattered around the world. 

Fun fact - vanilla can only grow 10 to 20 degrees north and south of the equator, which really limits the areas in which it is produced. 75% of the vanilla that's on the market today comes from Madagascar and the island of Réunion. The rest of the world's supply of vanilla comes from Mexico and Tahiti. 

So, if you prefer the taste of french vanilla to that of regular vanilla, you'll only find it in ice cream, because it's a method of making ice cream, rather than an actual type of vanilla itself. I bet you didn't know that when you made your ice cream choices.