The long, black, dried seedpods of a climbing orchid from Madagascar. Widely used in desserts and baking. Look for dark brown shiny pods that are supple and shiny.
Vanilla Essence is an inexpensive synthetic product.
Vanilla Extract is made from vanilla pods and is far more expensive, but a little goes a long way. Just a few drops will scent a cake mixture or custard.
Using vanilla pods
Vanilla pods add a delicate flavour to many desserts. Try infusing whole vanilla pods in warm milk to make custard or ice cream. For a more pronounced flavour, cut the pods in half lengthwise and using the tip of a knife, scrape out the black seed paste, and add this to dessert recipes. When you have used the pods, dry them and place in a jar of caster sugar where it will gently scent the sugar to use in cakes and biscuits.