Vanilla is such a popular flavor, and it’s used in tons of recipes. However, did you know where vanilla comes from? It’s not the fruit that we use to flavor our desserts. Instead, vanilla flavoring comes from a type of orchid plant- which is why some people refer to it as “the second most expensive spice in the world” (only saffron takes the number one spot).
You can find vanilla in various desserts, from cookies to ice cream. The delicious aroma and taste make it a very popular additive to all kinds of edible products- not just food. Vanilla essence is excellent for making homemade perfume and homemade candles. It can even use to scent cleaning products, sofas, or anything that you don’t want to taste on its own!
And while it’s not exactly a secret ingredient in some recipes, people love the flavor of vanilla so much that they’re willing to pay big money for it. The flavoring is often used in cakes, chocolate, fruit spreads, and candies. It can also be found in medicine and perfumes. Because it’s such a popular food additive, the demand for vanilla flavoring is very high.
So, what is vanilla flavoring, and where does it come from? This article discusses these and more questions about vanilla flavoring, so you won’t have to wonder any longer.
Where Does Vanilla Flavoring Come From?
What is Vanilla Flavoring?
Vanilla flavoring makes from the extract of vanilla beans. Food companies use the extract in many different ways, depending on what they hope to accomplish. For example, some brands use artificial vanilla flavoring as a cheap alternative to the real thing because it is cheaper and easier to make.
Other companies will use natural vanilla as an additive or enhancer for different flavors in their product.
Where Does Vanilla Flavoring Come From?
Vanilla flavoring comes from vanilla beans, part of the orchid family. These plants had to pollinate by hand to get the seeds necessary to create vanilla flavoring. The pods of these large, vibrant flowers grow around 6 inches long.
They need to harvest before reaching their full size and bright white color. The beans are then fermented in stages. It takes several months for them to be ready for food products.
After the vanilla seeds harvest, they are left to dry out. They are placed on racks and allowed air out for about six weeks before the drying process is finished in ovens that maintain a temperature of about 120 degrees Fahrenheit. After this, the beans are ready to use in food products.
Natural vs Artificial Vanilla Flavor
The vanilla flavoring that we eat and use comes from the vanilla plant, but there are differences in their flavors. Some brands will use artificial flavorings as a cheaper alternative to natural vanilla. If a company is looking to save money on their product, they may opt for this option instead of using natural vanilla flavoring because it is cheaper and easier to make.
Natural Vanilla Flavor
The natural vanilla flavor differs from the artificial vanilla flavor in that it derives from plant material, while the artificial vanilla flavor is made in a lab. Artificial vanilla doesn’t have to be “approved” by the FDA because it isn’t technically an additive to food or drink.
Additionally, consumers should consider some health differences before buying products containing different forms of vanilla flavoring.
Artificial Vanilla Flavor
Artificial vanilla flavoring is made with other chemicals, like vanillin, which derives from wood pulp’s lignin. Some studies have linked artificial vanilla flavorings to various cancerous growths in lab animals, specifically the lungs and liver.
As a result, some schools think that humans should be careful about consuming it. Also, artificial vanilla is much cheaper than natural, so companies that rely on large-scale production will use it.
On the other hand, the natural vanilla flavor came from actual vanilla beans grounding up and added to products in small amounts for flavoring purposes. While this does not mean that natural vanilla is healthy either, few negative studies have been done. The FDA has not taken any action against natural vanilla, so it is considered safe and approved for consumption.
The natural vanilla flavor may also give a product a better taste than artificial vanilla flavoring because of its naturally sweet smell. This appeals to consumers who want their foods and drinks to taste good but not contain chemicals that may cause cancer.
Natural vanilla contains vanillin, just like artificial vanilla does, which is why it smells so sweet. However, natural vanilla also has over 200 other compounds contributing to its taste and fragrance.
These include maltol, which creates a caramel-like flavor, and ethyl methylphenylglycidate, a vanilla scent. The number of chemicals in natural vanilla has led to the process being labeled as “complex” by some food scientists.
However, the natural vanilla flavor remains somewhat expensive despite all these benefits because it is difficult to harvest and create. While there are not many adverse health effects, it is still considered a luxury item because of its work.
Can Natural Flavor Harm Your Health?
The FDA has deemed natural vanilla flavor safe, but it is still a luxury item because it is difficult to make. The natural vanilla flavor contains vanillin, which may pose health consequences if consumed in large amounts.
Vanillin is a chemical that makes up around 75% of the human diet, and it is known to cause throat inflammation when overly consumed. This is why it isn’t recommended to drink alcohol with vanilla beans in it.
The only other ingredient in the natural vanilla flavor is glycerin, which isn’t harmful. Consuming large amounts of this product can contribute to obesity and hyperglycemia when taken over long periods. Still, otherwise, there is not much evidence showing that it is terrible for you.
Vanilla flavoring link to cancerous growths in lab animals, so consuming large amounts of natural vanilla might have similar effects on humans. Even though this hasn’t been proven, the best way to avoid the risk is not to eat very much of it.
What To Consider When Buying Vanilla Products
When buying vanilla products, you need to consider many things, and below are some of them.
Natural or Artificial
As stated before, natural vanilla is undoubtedly more expensive since it requires more work to produce. However, you may want to consider the risks associated with artificial vanilla flavoring, no matter how small they are.
How concentrated the vanilla product also matters. Higher concentrations are more expensive, but you need to consider if it’s worth it or not. You can always try a lower concentration and let your taste buds decide if they want something more powerful later.
The price is another reason people may choose one vanilla product over the other. Some people want the cheapest product, even if it may not be as effective as more expensive products.
Frequency of Use
How often you use the product matters because if you only need it once in a while, it might make sense to save money on cheaper products. However, if you use vanilla more than average, invest in a more powerful and effective vanilla product, even if it costs more.
The line between natural and artificial flavorings is thin, and many food companies take advantage of this fact. Consumers need to be aware of what they are buying and how it may affect their health later on down the road.
Different storage methods can also factor into your decision on what vanilla products are best for you. If you do not want to worry about the flavor dissipating over time, buy an airtight container and keep it tightly sealed.
Place You Will Buy From
When buying vanilla, it also matters where you buy from. If you plan to purchase the product only once in a while, convenience stores and other outlets may suffice. However, if you need to use vanilla as a staple ingredient in your cooking or baking, finding a shop specializing in such products might be more beneficial since they are more likely to have the products you need.
Type of Vanilla Product
The type of vanilla product you choose matters, but it depends on what you are making. If you need dessert for a party or special event, quality is more important than the price because no one wants a defective product served at an important function.
If money isn’t an issue and you want to impress your guests with the best vanilla they have ever tasted, you might want to consider making your extract from scratch, as this is the purest form of vanilla.
However, suppose you need a teaspoon or two for your recipe. In that case, it probably makes sense to go with either artificial vanillin or natural vanilla flavor since they are cheaper and will have a similar impact on the taste of your dish.
Intended Use of the Product
The use of vanilla products is another factor to consider, as certain products are better for one purpose than others. Vanilla extract, for example, is best used in baking or cooking since you want something strong and potent. If you’re going to make a simple cupcake or cake frosting, flavoring it with vanillin powder will be sufficient.
You may want to consider making your vanilla products from scratch for the best flavor. However, this method is not for everyone and certainly takes some time and skill.
Types Of Vanilla Products
There are many types of vanilla products, and the decision on which one is best for you is primarily determined by where you will buy it from, how often you plan on using it, and what your intended use for the product is.
If you want the most authentic vanilla flavor and aroma, then this is the product for you. However, it comes at a higher price, and you need to consider if it’s worth it or not. Vanilla beans are reasonable when making homemade extract but dusty when used in baked goods because of their strong texture.
These make from vanilla beans and are potent, making them suitable for baking or cooking. Vanilla extract is the most popular type of vanilla product because it has a robust flavor that consumers can easily detect.
Vanilla Beans Paste
This type of vanilla product creates when extracts blend with natural soy lecithin, a fat emulsifier. The purpose of the additive is to make vanilla extract more viscous and less runny.
Vanilla Bean Powder
This type of vanilla product makes from whole or cut vanilla beans that have been dried and then ground into a fine powder. This powdered form of the vanilla product makes adding some vanilla flavor to a dish straightforward since it is easier to mix in.
This product makes from artificial vanilla extract and then processed into a fine, white powder that can easily flavor different dishes. Vanilla bean powder has a similar taste but does not have the rich aroma of vanilla beans.
This is a good product for those who want to make ice cream at home as it is relatively easy to mix in and doesn’t separate. Vanilla syrup comes in three different forms: classic, dark, and golden. The first two versions are more popular than the third one, but it depends on your preference and what you will be using the syrup for.
While this information has helped you know more about vanilla and vanilla flavorings and will help you choose your next vanilla product purchase, it is essential to consider your own needs and preferences when selecting a vanilla product.
If you need a particular type of vanilla flavor for a specific dish or dessert, use this guide to help you find the best one for your needs.
Jen Lin-Liu is the founder of Black Sesame Kitchen. A Chinese-American writer and a nationally certified Chinese chef in Beijing. Jen is the author of two memoirs, Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China and On the Noodle Road: From Beijing to Rome with Love and Pasta.