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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.

Example Sentences

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
Premiums would be only modestly higher than for a plain-vanilla life policy, and would remain the same after the policy converts to long-term care coverage. Howard Gleckman, Forbes, 23 Jan. 2023 Add the vanilla, then increase to high and beat for 5 minutes (no less, or the meringues may fall slightly during baking); the whites will be thick, shiny and hold stiff peaks. Christopher Kimball, USA TODAY, 21 Jan. 2023 But even though white independent deejays popularized Richard’s recording, covers by Elvis and the very vanilla Pat Boone, of all people, outsold it. David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter, 19 Jan. 2023 For the best step of all, the three kids were intrigued as mom Kate iced the vanilla cupcakes with sprinkles. Stephanie Petit, Peoplemag, 17 Jan. 2023 Deposit accounts are the most plain vanilla of banking services, but interesting shifts are afoot. Ben Eisen, WSJ, 13 Jan. 2023 That distinct bittersweet flavor of cocoa is there for sure, and vanilla is dominant but not cloying. Marc Bona, cleveland, 4 Dec. 2022 Let sit a few minutes to infuse vanilla before removing bean. Rita Nader Heikenfeld, The Enquirer, 25 Nov. 2022 Research shows that vanilla makes people more relaxed and joyful (mmm, baking), while peppermint can boost energy and lavender can zap stress. Zee Krstic, Good Housekeeping, 22 Nov. 2022 See More

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'vanilla.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

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 8 Feb. 2023.

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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