[vuh-nil-uh or, often, -nel-uh]
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  1. any tropical, climbing orchid of the genus Vanilla, especially V. planifolia, bearing podlike fruit yielding an extract used in flavoring food, in perfumery, etc.
  2. Also called vanilla bean. the fruit or bean of this orchid.
  3. the extract of this fruit.
  1. containing or flavored with vanilla: vanilla custard.
  2. Informal. plain-vanilla.

Origin of vanilla

1655–65; < New Latin < Spanish vainilla little pod, equivalent to vain(a) a sheath (< Latin vāgīna sheath) + -illa diminutive suffix (< LL) Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for vanilla


  1. any tropical climbing orchid of the genus Vanilla, esp V. plonifolia, having spikes of large fragrant greenish-yellow flowers and long fleshy pods containing the seeds (beans)
  2. the pod or bean of certain of these plants, used to flavour food, etc
  3. a flavouring extract prepared from vanilla beans and used in cooking
  1. flavoured with or as if with vanillavanilla ice cream
  2. slang ordinary or conventionala vanilla kind of guy

Word Origin for vanilla

C17: from New Latin, from Spanish vainilla pod, from vaina a sheath, from Latin vāgīna sheath
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for vanilla

1660s, from Spanish vainilla "vanilla plant," literally "little pod," diminutive of vaina "sheath," from Latin vagina "sheath" (see vagina). So called from the shape of the pods. European discovery 1521 by Hernando Cortes' soldiers on reconnaissance in southeastern Mexico. Meaning "conventional, of ordinary sexual preferences" is 1970s, from notion of whiteness and the common choice of vanilla ice cream.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper

vanilla in Medicine


  1. Any of various tropical American vines of the genus Vanilla, especially V. planifolia, cultivated for its long narrow seedpods from which a flavoring agent is obtained.
  2. The seedpod of this plant.vanilla bean
  3. A flavoring extract prepared from the cured seedpods of this plant or produced synthetically.
  1. Flavored with vanilla.
The American Heritage® Stedman's Medical Dictionary Copyright © 2002, 2001, 1995 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.