Is “French vanilla” just a fancified name?

Tack “French” onto anything’s name and it automatically sounds fancier: French wine, French cheese, etc. People often assume (consciously or unconsciously) that French vanilla is higher quality than regular ol’ vanilla. However, that’s not necessarily the case—in fact, it’s not even from France.

Vanilla vs. French Vanilla Ice Cream

“French vanilla” is not a type of vanilla bean (like Tahitian or Madagascar varieties), it’s an ice cream-making method. The base of French vanilla ice cream contains egg yolks, and traditionally, the base of plain vanilla ice cream does not (this yolk-less version is also called “Philadelphia-style"). However, that doesn't mean that every carton of plain vanilla ice cream you see on the freezer aisle is void of egg yolks—so keep that in mind if you're shopping for someone with an egg allergy.

French Vanilla Flavor

Ice cream tub Getty 7/18/19
Credit: Riou/Getty Images

Riou/Getty Images

Because of the egg yolks, French vanilla ice cream tastes richer and more custard-like than its plain vanilla counterpart.

While the French vanilla label technically only applies to ice cream, many products—like coffee creamer—are French vanilla-flavored. This means that the vanilla tastes rich, caramelized, eggy, and has a custardy flavored finish.