Pure Vanilla Extract
Pure Vanilla for Cooking & Baking
Where does pure vanilla extract come from? This phenomenally popular flavoring is one of the few flavors that are stringently regulated by the FDA. In order to be considered "pure" this made from only three ingredients: alcohol, water, and vanilla beans. In addition, in order to be labeled and sold as "pure vanilla extract," it must contain a minimum of 35% alcohol and be made using at least 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon. All vanilla extracts, including commercially-produced and homemade, are made in the same way: by soaking whole or chopped vanilla beans in a combination of alcohol and water to extract the flavor (from a naturally-occurring compound called "vanillin" and color, then straining so that only the liquid is left.
Why is Pure Vanilla Extract so Expensive?
Pure vanilla extract is made using only vanillin extracted from actual vanilla beans for flavor and color, and vanilla beans have increased in price due to a variety of factors including global weather and labor. However, other sources of vanillin exist, either from natural sources or by chemical synthetization, and they are significantly less expensive. By creating flavorings that include natural vanillin, synthetic vanillin, or natural (non-vanilla) flavors, manufacturers are able to produce more economical vanilla extracts and flavorings with true-to-ingredient taste and aroma that come close to the rich smell, color, and taste of pure vanilla extract at a significantly lower price.
Is Pure Vanilla Extract Better than Artificial?
The actual answer is "sometimes", because it really does depend on the application. All alcohol-based extracts, including pure vanilla extract, will bake off at high temperatures. The alcohol evaporates, leaving behind only the flavor and aroma. However, some of the taste and smell dissipates with the alcohol, which is one of the reasons why kitchens where vanilla is baking smell fabulous. Because of this evaporation, many taste tests between pure and artificial vanilla in high-heat baking applications reveal little difference in the final product. The story changes for mid-level temperature, low-temp, and no-bake recipes, as there is less evaporation and the full original flavor and aroma of the extract come through more strongly. This is where pure vanilla extract really shines, as the deep, rich taste and full fragrance of pure vanilla is unmistakable.
When to Use Pure Vanilla Extract vs Natural or Artificial?
- No-Bake Applications: Whipped Cream, No-Bake Cheesecake, Frosting, Buttercream
- Low-Temp Baking: Pudding, Crème Brûlée, Custard, Simmered Sauces, Icing
- Mid-Temperature Baked Goods: Cakes, Cupcakes, Pastry Creams
- Frozen Desserts: Ice Cream, Yogurt
- Beverages: Lattes, Milkshakes, Protein Drinks, Cocktails & Mocktails