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va·​nil·​la və-ˈni-lə How to pronounce vanilla (audio) -ˈne- How to pronounce vanilla (audio)
: a commercially important extract of the vanilla bean that is used especially as a flavoring
: any of a genus (Vanilla) of tropical American climbing epiphytic orchids


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: flavored with vanilla
: lacking distinction : plain, ordinary, conventional

Did you know?

How did vanilla get such a bad rap? The flavor with that name certainly has enough fans, with the bean of the Vanilla genus of orchids finding its way into products ranging from ice cream to coffee to perfumes to air fresheners. Vanilla's unfortunate reputation arose due to its being regarded as the "basic" flavor among ice-cream selections, particularly as more complex flavors emerged on the market. (Its somewhat beigey color probably didn't help.) From there, people began using the adjective to describe anything plain, ordinary, or conventional.

Examples of vanilla in a Sentence

Noun The frosting is flavored with vanilla. Adjective The décor is pretty vanilla. a plain vanilla version of a song that's been recorded more times than necessary
Recent Examples on the Web
Make the cream cheese topping: With an electric mixer, combine cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, egg, and salt. Micah A Leal, Southern Living, 23 Feb. 2024 Brilliant gold in the glass, this wine has complex aromas of white peach, vanilla, tangerine, and beeswax and flavors of roasted hazelnuts, marzipan, yellow peach, and quince. Mike Desimone and Jeff Jenssen, Robb Report, 22 Feb. 2024 Crumb Couture will leave your clothes smelling like the bakery of your dreams; the sweet scent is light and filled with notes of berry, vanilla, and fresh croissants. Sophia Beams, Better Homes & Gardens, 21 Feb. 2024 In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cream and vanilla until soft peaks form. Caron Golden, San Diego Union-Tribune, 21 Feb. 2024 And in case anyone was still hungry, the wedding afterparty was catered by Chick-fil-A. Dessert included slices of the couple's chocolate and vanilla wedding cake filled with cannoli cream, along with cheesecake, lobster tail pastries and chocolate cannoli bombs. Erin Clack, Peoplemag, 18 Feb. 2024 Dawn smells like vanilla bourbon with jolts of florals. Kiana Murden, Vogue, 14 Feb. 2024 The palate is very fruit-forward, kind of like an elevated Edible Arrangement with notes of hot mulled cider, fresh raspberry and blackberry, vanilla, and a pinch of black pepper. Jonah Flicker, Robb Report, 11 Feb. 2024 In our Taste Test series, Bon Appétit editors conduct blind comparisons to discover the best supermarket staples (like vanilla ice cream or frozen pizza). Sam Stone, Bon Appétit, 8 Feb. 2024 See More

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'vanilla.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History



borrowed from New Latin, borrowed from Spanish vainilla "the vanilla plant and fruit," diminutive of vaina "sheath, pod," going back to Latin vāgīna "scabbard, sheath"; replacing earlier vaynilla, borrowed from Spanish

First Known Use


1662, in the meaning defined at sense 1a


1846, in the meaning defined at sense 1

Time Traveler
The first known use of vanilla was in 1662


Dictionary Entries Near vanilla

Cite this Entry

“Vanilla.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 1 Mar. 2024.

Kids Definition


: a flavoring made from the long pods of a tropical American climbing orchid
also : this orchid or one of the same genus

Medical Definition


va·​nil·​la və-ˈnil-ə How to pronounce vanilla (audio) -ˈnel- How to pronounce vanilla (audio)
: a commercially important extract of the vanilla bean that is prepared by soaking comminuted vanilla beans in water and ethyl alcohol and that is used especially as a flavoring (as in pharmaceutical preparations)
: any of a genus (Vanilla) of tropical American climbing orchids

More from Merriam-Webster on vanilla

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