Vanilla extract is a solution made by macerating and percolating vanilla pods in a solution of ethanol and water. It is considered an essential ingredient in many Western desserts, especially baked goods like cakes, cookies, brownies, and cupcakes, as well as custards, ice creams, and puddings. Although its primary flavor compound is vanillin, pure vanilla extract contains several hundred additional flavor compounds, which are responsible for its complex, deep flavor. By contrast, artificial vanilla flavor is solely made up of artificially-derived vanillin, which is frequently made from a by-product of the wood pulp industry. In the United States, in order for a vanilla extract to be called pure, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that the solution contains a minimum of 35% alcohol and 100 g of vanilla beans per litre (13.35 ounces per gallon). Double and triple strength (up to 20-fold) vanilla extracts are also available, although these are primarily used for manufacturing and foodservice purposes where the amount of liquid in a recipe needs to be carefully monitored.
Vanilla extract is the most common form of vanilla used today. Mexican, Tahitian, Indonesian and Bourbon vanilla are the main varieties. Bourbon vanilla is named for the period when the island of Réunion was ruled by the Bourbon kings of France; it does not contain Bourbon whiskey.
Natural vanilla flavoring is derived from real vanilla beans with little to no alcohol. The maximum amount of alcohol that is usually present is only 2–3%.
Under the Food and Drug Regulations (C.R.C., c. 870), vanilla extract products have to be processed from vanilla beans: Vanilla planifolia or Vanilla tahitensia. For every 100 ml of extract, it must contain an amount of soluble substances proportional to their natural state available for extract. Specifically, if the beans contain < 25% water content, the vanilla extract must consist of at least 10 g of vanilla beans; if the beans contain > 25% water content, the vanilla extract must consist of at least 7.5 g of vanilla beans. Vanilla extract should not contain added colour.
- Lior Lev Sercarz (3 October 2016). "How vanilla became the world's favorite flavor". Saveur. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
- C. Rose Kennedy (2017). "The Flavor Rundown: Natural vs. Artificial Flavors". Harvard University. Retrieved 9 February 2018.
- Food and Drug Administration (April 1, 2010). "Food and Drugs, Chapter I, Subchapter A, Food for Human Consumption, Part 169—Food Dressings and Flavorings". Title 21 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved 14 July 2010.
- Branch, Legislative Services. "Consolidated federal laws of canada, Food and Drug Regulations". laws-lois.justice.gc.ca.