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Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is a concentrated solution of dried vanilla pods, water, and ethanol. It was invented in 1847 when vanilla plantations were all established in tropical countries such as Madagascar and Indonesia. Soon enough, vanilla extract became and remained to be popular worldwide. Its sweet-floral aroma, uniquely deep intensity and varied flavor profile made it a staple ingredient in many Western desserts like cakes, cupcakes, cookies, brownies, ice creams, custards, puddings, and more.

Vanilla Extract Trivia

  • Vanilla, which is the Spanish word for “little pod,” is the one and only edible fruit of the orchid family.
  • The vanilla orchid only lasts for 24 hours. It must then be pollinated to produce its fruit; otherwise, it will die.
  • There are over 150 varieties of vanilla plants.
  • Vanilla was known to be a status symbol; It was exclusive for the wealthy Europeans and the Aztec kings, who used vanilla to pay their taxes with.
  • The United States is the world’s largest consumer of vanilla. 
  • Vanilla is not only used in food and drinks. It is also used in flavoring medicines, perfumes, paint, rubber tires, and cleaning products. In fact, it was originally valued as a perfume before the year 1519.
  • Spiders hate vanilla; thus, it’s easy to drive away these creatures with vanilla beans.
  • Vanilla was used as an aphrodisiac in some cultures.

Vanilla Extract Buying Guide

Although it’s easy to buy vanilla extracts in large supermarkets like H-E-B and Natural Grocers, it’s not cost-efficient to purchase one. Vanilla extracts are reasonably expensive because of the complexity of its production, the months-long curing process, and the intensiveness of its labor. If you find a low-cost vanilla, it is most likely the imitation or artificial one, which does not contain real vanilla at all but rather a byproduct of wood pulp. Thus, here are some tips to follow when you opt to buy the store-bought ones:

  • You can find vanilla extracts in either of the following places: the baking aisle section of the supermarket, local baking supplies, farmers’ markets, and online shops.
  • As always, check out the ingredients list and pick the ones with lesser ingredients and the ones that do not contain hard to pronounce additives.
  • Pick the ones that come in dark-colored bottles. This is an indication that the extract hasn’t been much exposed to light. 
  • Check the label. A pure vanilla extract should specify its origin. Otherwise, if you just see “Pure Vanilla Extract,” it means that the product contains a mixture of different vanillas. Consequently, avoid extracts that are labeled “imitation vanilla.”
  • Lastly, it is good to know that real and pure vanilla extract comes in different varieties, which are all named after its origin. These are the following:
    • Madagascar or Bourbon vanilla extract – this variety has the most sought-after flavor among recipes. It has a strong earthy, hay-like, creamy, and spicy flavor notes to it, providing the most classic vanilla flavor. Nonetheless, don’t be confused with the name “Bourbon” as it was simply referring to the Bourbon Island near Madagascar.
    • Tahitian vanilla extract – extracted from different vanilla plant species that provide a plumber bean. Thus, it has floral and fruity notes, resembling the flavor of cherries.
    • Mexican vanilla extract – has a deep, creamy-sweet flavor note with a little heat added to it. Thus, it is perfect to be used for Christmas and Thanksgiving holidays as it blends naturally with citrus fruits, chocolates, and warm spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or cloves.
    • Indonesian vanilla – has sharp and smoky notes added to it. This variety is more stable and heat resistant. Thus, it is best to use on dishes that require high heat or slow baking.
    • Ugandan vanilla – has bold and creamy-sweet flavor notes with hints of chocolate. Thus, it is best to use on dishes with caramel, chocolate, and citrus flavors.

Vanilla Extract Production & Farming in Texas

Vanilla vines are a native tropical plant that needs to be supported by 60-70ºF night temperature and 80-95ºF day temperature. They also require a well-circulated humid air and more so, they cannot tolerate frost. Thus, growing vanilla plants is possible in the state of Texas but Texans usually grow them in a climate-controlled area such as a greenhouse or conservatory. The flowers start to bloom after three or more years of planting the cuttings, and it has to be hand-pollinated within 24 hours to produce vanilla pods. Once pollinated, it takes another nine to ten months for the pods to be ready for harvest and are then cured for use.

Pesticides, additives, and chemicals:

We all agree that buying commercially produced vanilla extract is more convenient than making one at home, especially if you don’t have several months to infuse it. However, store-bought vanilla extract is a lot more expensive, yet it is more filled with unhealthy ingredients, especially the imitation ones. Although you can still find organic vanilla extract in stores or online shops, not all of them can assure the quality and purity of vanilla itself. Hence, here are some additives that we found on some brands:

  • Extractives – These additives are made with essential oils or condensed flavor essence of different spices. It can be mixed with solvents such as alcohol, or water. They act as a flavor enhancer and it also contributes to a longer shelf-life.
  • Caramel Color – It is a water-soluble food coloring that is made from caramelizing natural sources such as sugar or corn. Nonetheless, it acts as an emulsifier and a dye for a more appetizing color. Although this additive is generally safe to eat, it might increase the risk of high blood pressure or hypertension if eaten regularly and in great amounts.
  • Ethyl Alcohol or Ethanol – It is a food additive that enhances the flavor of food extracts. It acts as a solvent, which can help in making the food color distribution consistently even. Although it is generally classified as safe to consume, it can cause headaches or coughing when inhaled. 
  • Vanillin – It is a naturally occurring compound that provides vanilla its aroma and flavor. Although it is the main flavor compound in vanilla, finding this additive in the ingredient list is an indication of a cheap and unhealthy alternative for the real vanilla extract. And although vanillin is generally classified as safe to consume, it can cause allergic reactions, migraines, and digestive disorders. 
  • Propylene Glycol – This additive is used to maintain the food’s flavor and moisture for a longer period of time. Although it is generally classified as safe to consume, it might lead to acidosis and kidney failure once consumed in toxic quantities. 
  • Potassium Sorbate – This additive is used to retard yeast and molds in foods, thus acting as a preservative. It is a chemical that is commonly found in cosmetics where it can lead to scalp or skin irritation. That being said, consuming this chemical can cause allergic reactions and headaches. 
  • Potassium Hydroxide – This additive acts as a stabilizer, a food thickener, and a pH level control agent. Although this chemical ingredient is generally classified as safe to consume, higher intakes may cause pulmonary edema.


Vanilla extract usually comes in 4-ounces, 8-ounces, or 1-liter glass or pet bottles. 1-gallon vanilla extracts are also available and can be useful for restaurants, bakeshops, or pastry shops that need regular high amounts of this ingredient. 

Enjoying Vanilla Extract

A teaspoon or two of vanilla extract is usually added to many baked goods and desserts. It is the key ingredient for making basic cakes, cupcakes, and buttercream. Nonetheless, it can also be enjoyed on a variety of food and beverages such as coffees, lattes, smoothies, roasted fruit, almond butter, pancakes, whipped creams, and more. Since vanilla extract is so concentrated and has a heavy flavor, it is always good to remember to just add a teaspoon or less at a time.


Vanilla extract should be kept in an airtight container and stored in a cool, dry, and dark place away from the sunlight, humid and hot zones like stoves, grills, and ovens to prolong their shelf life. It doesn’t need to be in the refrigerator as you can simply put this in your pantry. Vanilla extract can last for several years as long as they are properly stored.

Make your own vanilla extract:

Vanilla extract is not just easy to do at home, but it’s also a lot more cost-efficient than buying store-bought ones. If you have an airtight container, bottle, or jar at home, all you need are vanilla beans and vodka to start. You can start using your vanilla extract after 2 months, but it’s more flavorful after a year. That being said, homemade vanilla extracts could last for several years. Below is the standard recipe for pure vanilla extract that only takes less than 5 minutes of your time.

Yield: 1 Liter / 64 tablespoons


  • 100-120 g or 20-24 pieces vanilla beans
  • 1-liter vodka with 80 proof or at least 35% alcohol (you can use bourbon, brandy, or rum)


  1. Slit the vanilla beans lengthwise using a sharp knife and insert them into a 1-liter bottle or jar.
  2. Carefully pour the vodka using a funnel to keep from spilling. Make sure that the beans are fully submerged in alcohol; otherwise, add more vodka. 
  3. Close the bottle or jar and store it in a cool, dry, and dark place out of direct sunlight. Infuse for at least 8 weeks, shaking twice a month. For optimal and more flavorful vanilla extract, wait at least 6-12 months before use. Chef tip: When you start using your extract, refill the bottle with some vodka. Again, making sure that the beans are fully submerged. Otherwise, remove and discard the vanilla beans as they tend to be slimy when they’re exposed to air and not fully submerged in liquid.



  • Serving Size: 1 Serving
  • Calories: 37.4 2%
  • Carbs: 1.6g 1%
  • Sugar: 1.6g
  • Fiber: 0g 0%
  • Protein: 0g 0%
  • Fat: 0g 0%
  • Saturated Fat: 0g 0%
  • Trans Fat 0g 0%
  • Cholesterol 0mg 0%
  • Sodium 1.2mg 0%
  • Vitamin C 0mg 0%
  • Vitamin A 0IU 0%
  • Calcium 1.4mg 0%
  • Iron 0mg 0%
  • Potassium 19.2mg 1%
  • Riboflavin 0.2mg 12%
  • Vitamin B6 0.1mg 3%
  • Niacin 0.9mg 4%
  • Magnesium 1.6mg 0%
  • Phosphorus 0.8mg 0%

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