Salt, pepper, pasta, rice...are essential, but with all the sensitivities that some folks have to gluten and the need for low sodium food, vanilla came out on top. And pepper, I don't know. I just like vanilla better.
It's pretty much something I have to keep, and just use it for various things. True, it matters most in baking, but I've used it for coffees, shakes, cocktails, sauces and smoothies.
And, homemade whipped cream!!! Love that!
The scent alone makes it a must have. It smells awesome. It's also a splurge worthy bargain. I shall elaborate: vanilla, real vanilla, is another labor intensive product. So when you buy it, you pay a pretty penny, but you're paying for a really great good, and it really takes a little...from 1/2teaspon to a teaspoon...to go a long way. It's an investment in your kitchen.
If something is too bitter, and I don't want to add any sugar, or additional sugar, I add a pinch of vanilla. It's complexities can often mask bitterness, not to mention, add something special to a recipe.