I love vanilla. I think it gets a very bad wrap as being "plain" when it is anything but! If you look into how vanilla is grown and harvested, you will realize that it's a very complicated and delicate process that only a few area's of the world are fit to support.
Firstly, the vanilla bean is grown from an orchid, which instantly sends my gardening brain into a panic because they are notoriously picky and sensitive flowers. Secondly, the orchids can only survive in ecosystems 10-20 degrees north or south of the equator. That is a very specific area of the world....and an area that increasingly faces man made travesties including global warming, black market trade, deforestation, labor exploitation, etc! Thirdly! Vanilla beans are the second most expensive spice (yes, it is a spice!) after saffron. Fourth. Vanilla is incredibly labor intensive.
"In order for vanilla orchids to produce pods (commonly referred to as beans), the plant must be pollinated by hummingbirds or a specific species of bees native to Central America. Furthermore, the flowers are only open for a short period of time. In order to harvest vanilla commercially, therefore, the plants must be hand-pollinated." - Huffington Post
Hand pollination means that a person has to walk around to every flower, transferring pollen from the male to the female flowers, one by one, to fertilize the flowers so they will produce the pods.
Growing the beans (or pods) is only the first step in a long line of steps to get from the plant to your cookies. I won't go into the whole list, because I don't want to bore you...
The beans are boiled, dried, cured, packaged, shipped, split, soaked with alcohol and water for 6 months to a YEAR, bottled, pasteurized, shipped (again), where it finally makes it to your store shelves.
That is one heck of a ride to be labeled as "plain." I know a lot of food products go through similar pains, but this in my swan song, okay. I will talk your ear off about the intricacies of vanilla production until I am literally on my death bed. It is one of the most specialized and undervalued items in your kitchen.
So the next time you look at the price of Pure vanilla extract (which is the only product that actually contains vanilla, don't ever buy imitation vanilla, it's plastic flavoring) think about the time, energy, and labor that goes in to making that small little brown bottle and appreciate the wonder of modern farming technology that we are able to have this rich, delicious, floral extract!