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Vanilla Extract or Artificial Vanilla?

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Thank you to Singing Dog Vanilla for this incredible information.

Do you know the difference between Mexican vanilla, pure vanilla extract, artificial vanilla flavor or other vanilla options available?  If you use vanilla in your business, you’ve probably researched available vanilla products but found it difficult to determine if you are comparing similar items.  This short tutorial will help you evaluate vanilla extract differences of various products.



Pure Vanilla Extract

Pure Vanilla Extract (Ingredients: Water; Alcohol; Vanilla Bean Extractives)

Vanilla Extract is defined by the FDA in CFR 21, part 169. It must be extracted from no less than 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon, in a minimum of 35% ethyl alcohol, with the remaining liquid being water.  The addition of sugar, glycerin, or corn syrup is also allowed and is sometimes added to Vanilla Extract to mask the flavor of synthetic alcohol.  The ethyl alcohol can come from many different sources such as corn, sugar, or made synthetically from natural gas and petroleum derivatives.  Ask your supplier for the source of the alcohol in their vanilla.  The alcohol in Singing Dog Vanilla products is derived from pure cane sugar.



Alcohol-Free Pure Vanilla Flavor

Alcohol Free Pure Vanilla Flavor (Ingredients: Water; Glycerin; Vanilla Bean Extractives)

Most companies in the USA make this product with the same 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans as Vanilla Extract, but replace the alcohol with glycerin. According to FDA rules, because this product does not contain at least 35% alcohol, it cannot be called Vanilla Extract.  Glycerin can come from many animal or vegetable sources.  Check with your vanilla supplier for details if you have allergies or other concerns. Singing Dog Vanilla’s Alcohol-Free Vanilla Flavor is made with the same 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans as our pure vanilla extract and contains glycerin derived from rapeseed oil (also called turnip seed oil).

Check the ingredient label. You may find a bottle labeled “Alcohol Free Vanilla Flavor” that doesn’t contain any real vanilla.



Natural Vanilla Flavor

Natural Vanilla Flavor (Ingredients: Water; Alcohol; Glycerin; Vanilla bean Extractives; Botanical Extractives)

Singing Dog Vanilla and a few other reputable vanilla suppliers have developed Natural Vanilla Flavor. Natural Vanilla Flavor is also sometimes called WONF (With Other Natural Flavors).  Natural Vanilla Flavor is made with real vanilla beans and augmented with other plant extracts to approximate the flavor of pure vanilla extract. It doesn’t have the flavor complexity of Pure Vanilla Extract, but it makes a reasonable clean-label substitute for companies hoping to reduce costs amidst the currently high vanilla prices. The FDA does not define Natural Vanilla Flavor so the amount of actual vanilla content will vary depending on the manufacturer.  As always, check the ingredients label and ask for a Certificate of Analysis to make sure your Natural Vanilla Flavor has not been adulterated with synthetic flavors or coloring. 



Artificial Vanilla

Artificial Vanilla (The ingredients vary but usually include Water; Vanillin derived from wood pulp; Synthetic Alcohol; Caramel coloring; Corn Syrup).

There are plenty of fake vanilla products made in the USA that are safe for human consumption. The color of these products varies from clear to dark brown depending on the amount of food coloring added.  Cake decorators often purchase clear vanilla so they can add vanilla flavor to cake frosting. Some labels may say, “made from vanillin crystals”.  These vanillin crystals are derived from sources other than vanilla beans. Although the name “crystals” sounds good on the label, it is not real vanilla.

Reputable distributors of these products will always have a Certificate of Analysis available upon request.



Mexican Vanilla

Mexican Vanilla (Ingredients: ???)

You or someone you know has probably said some version of, “I get my vanilla from Mexico. Mexican vanilla is cheaper, has a strong flavor, and it has ‘FDA Approved’ on the label so I know it’s not that stuff that tourists buy,” or, “I get vanilla made in Mexico from a local distributor or online. Its 2 or 4 times stronger and cheaper than other vanillas. The translation of the label says it is made with real vanilla.”

We know you don’t want to hear this, but it’s either completely fake or contains very little real vanilla. Real Mexican Vanilla is rare and expensive.  Mexico has not figured out how to somehow grow and extract vanilla for a fraction of the cost of every other vanilla-growing country on the planet. Regardless of what it says on the label in English, the FDA and USDA do not issue “Approved” logos. Actually, most of the available vanilla beans from Mexico are purchased by USA-based companies that make extract from them.  Real Mexican vanilla extract is not cheap. Therefore, if it is inexpensive it is probably fake.

While were at it, let’s add a little note about Clear Vanilla. Vanilla is brown. If you have clear vanilla in your hand, it is not real vanilla.

If your business is selling food and beverages that are consumed by the public, please take the time to request a Certificate of Analysis (C of A) to ensure your vanilla is safe before serving it to your customers. Having the C of A in hand will also help you to accurately assess comparable products.


For more great information about Vanilla and to try their amazing products

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