Vanilla flavor, vanilla extract, vanillin, and vanilla sugar. You have probably heard these terms before. But do you also know the difference between the products? In Germany, vanilla sugar is often used for baking. However, delicatessens and gourmet bakeries opt for pure vanilla extract. In American recipes, vanilla extract is basically always referred to. It's important to stick to the recipe in this case. We want to clarify what vanilla extract actually is and how it differs from other vanilla products.
What is Vanilla Extract?
Vanilla extract (also known as vanilla essence) is the plant extract obtained from pure vanilla pods. When talking about pure vanilla extract, it must always be extracted exclusively from real vanilla beans. The aromas of the vanilla pod are present in highly concentrated form in vanilla extract. Vanilla extract is essentially indefinitely shelf-stable. In essence, vanilla extract is the liquid extract of vanilla pods with around 35% ethanol. Why ethanol? We will explain that a bit further down in the production process of vanilla extract.
What is Bourbon Vanilla Extract?
Bourbon vanilla can only refer to vanilla that originates from the Bourbon Islands. The Bourbon Islands include Madagascar (the world's largest vanilla exporter), Comoros, Mauritius, Seychelles, and Réunion. Consequently, Bourbon vanilla extract is the extract obtained from vanilla grown on the Bourbon Islands. You can learn more about how vanilla extract is produced in the next section, the production process.
How is Vanilla Extract Made?
In the production of vanilla extract, vanilla pods are soaked in clear spirits. Over time, the flavors are extracted through the alcohol. The vanilla extract becomes darker and more intense in taste as time goes on.
Theoretically, you can also make vanilla extract yourself. All you need is some time and patience. For the process, take about 10 vanilla pods, which are placed in a sealable bottle. Add approximately 250 ml of clear spirit (we recommend vodka due to its neutral taste). Make sure the vanilla pods are completely covered by the vodka. If the vanilla pods are too large, you can also halve them.
Put the bottle with the vanilla pods in a dark place and let it sit for 2 to 4 months (depending on the desired intensity of the vanilla). Ensure that the liquid mixes well with the vanilla pods by gently shaking the bottle every 3 or 4 days. This will cause the vanilla extract to become darker (and more intense).
After 2 to 4 months, you can strain the finished vanilla extract through a cloth to filter out any undissolved parts of the vanilla pods.
What is the Difference Between Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Sugar?
We have already explained what vanilla extract is and how it's made. But what is vanilla sugar and how does it differ from vanilla extract?
Simplified, vanilla sugar is essentially crushed vanilla pods mixed with sugar. The vanilla seeds are dried and cut into small pieces. The dried pieces of the vanilla pod are combined with sugar and left to stand for several weeks. During this time, the vanilla imparts its flavors to the sugar, giving it a vanilla taste.
However, a more intense aroma is achieved when using vanilla extract, as the sweet sugar taste isn't in the foreground. For this reason, various gourmet shops opt for extract obtained from vanilla pods.
What is Vanilla Flavor, Vanillin, and Natural Vanilla Flavor?
When you see natural vanilla flavor on a product, it doesn't necessarily mean there's actual vanilla inside. It simply means that the flavor is of natural origin. However, this flavor can also be derived from other (natural) substances like rice bran.
When vanillin is mentioned, the origin of "vanilla" is often in the laboratory. Vanilla pods are generally quite expensive. To cut costs, vanillin is often artificially produced. Of the roughly 15,000 tons of vanillin consumed each year, about 90% is not from vanilla pods – it's synthetic.
Vanilla flavor in most cases consists of vanillin – meaning it's mostly synthetically produced through a chemical process.
If you prefer a genuine, natural vanilla flavor, it's recommended to use vanilla extract in the future. Although it's slightly more expensive compared to synthetically produced products, it excels in terms of quality, taste, and naturalness.
Where Can I Buy Vanilla Extract?
You can buy vanilla extract at well-stocked specialty stores. Alternatively, you can also order vanilla extract online and have it conveniently delivered to your home. High-quality vanilla extract typically costs between 20€ and 30€ per 100ml. At American Heritage, we've focused on the manufacturer Nielsen Massey for vanilla extract. The price of our premium Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract ranges (depending on bottle size) from 17.80€ to 22.50€ per 100ml – placing it even in the lower price range. If you use vanilla extract frequently, opting for a larger bottle is a good choice – the extract won't spoil due to preservation in alcohol.
What Makes Nielsen Massey's Bourbon Vanilla Extract Special?
At American Heritage, we consciously chose Nielsen Massey's Bourbon Vanilla Extract. There are several reasons for this decision. Firstly, we place a strong emphasis on high-quality products that convince both us and our customers. With Nielsen Massey, we've found a partner that supplies us with excellent vanilla extract. In our opinion, it's the best vanilla extract available on the market. Additionally, we're impressed by their social engagement and sustainability in production, which hold a significant value at Nielsen Massey.
For example, numerous charitable organizations and non-profit organizations are supported locally (in Madagascar) through financial contributions and volunteer work. Over 60 percent of Nielsen Massey's employees actively contribute to supporting vanilla producers.