Is vanilla extract the same as vanilla essence?
Published on November 13, 2015
Is vanilla extract the same as vanilla essence? No. Vanilla extract is the complete spectrum of oils, aromas and flavour compounds naturally found in real vanilla beans presented in a solution of alcohol and water. Because extract is made up of the 300+ organic compounds it has a much richer taste and fragrance compared with ‘vanilla essence’ or ‘imitation vanilla’ which only contains synthetically derived ‘vanillin’ hence the lack of diverse flavours.
Vanillin is the world famous molecule known for its flavoursome and aromatic properties. By volume each vanilla bean only contains around 3% - 5% vanillin however vanillin accounts for approximately 25% of the total flavour and fragrance experience of genuine vanilla extract. The remaining 75% are the organic compounds found in real vanilla beans, this is the major difference between extract and essence. High quality vanilla beans naturally produce more vanillin, hence premium prices for superior potency. Climate, curing and variety determine the potency of vanillin naturally occurring in vanilla beans.
Real vanillin can be captured in liquid form through soaking vanilla beans in alcohol and water to produce a true vanilla extract. The liquid is a safe and convenient way of adding 300+ flavour compounds from vanilla beans to enhance foods such as ice cream and chocolate. Cold extraction is best because it retains full flavour profile without destroying delicate organic compounds. Quality vanilla extract should have a shelf life of at least 3 years and flavours improve with age if kept in the dark at room temperature.
The definition of vanilla extract varies around the world allowing food manufactures to take advantage by marketing products as “natural” when the ingredients are chemically manipulated from other natural material to reduce cost. Vanillin in essence or natural vanilla flavour is usually derived from either pine bark or cloves. Imitation vanilla is usually derived from crude oil. Fake products include other artificial flavours, colourings, sweeteners and preservatives to try replicate the wonderful and diverse flavours found in real vanilla bean extract.
Vanillin extracted from vanilla beans is $2000 - $4000/kg compared with synthesis using biotechnology $1000/kg or synthesis from petrochemicals $15/kg. They say 98% of the world’s vanilla products are artificial.
The Federal Drug Administration of America (FDA) states vanilla extract should contain 100gm of vanilla bean extractives per litre of liquid (13.35 ounces per gallon). The alcohol content should be no less than 35% of total volume. The ‘Fold’ refers to extract strength – double fold contains 200gm of vanilla bean extractives per litre, triple fold contains 300gm per gallon etc. The FDA allows use of glycerine, propylene glycol, sugar (including invert sugar), dextrose and corn syrup which is an example of ambiguous definitions. Glycerine is a safe option for alcohol free extracts which cater for the halal market.
Heilala Vanilla grows organic Bourbon variety vanilla beans which are cured by hand for maximum vanillin production. This is why Heilala Vanilla is the world’s most labour intensive crop in the world. Heilala Vanilla Extract is batch brewed in stainless steel vats where diced vanilla beans are carefully soaked in cold water and alcohol to produce a range of concentrates (folds / strength). Heilala Vanilla single fold extract is great for domestic use as one teaspoon is equivalent strength to flavour of one vanilla bean.