If you have ever visited the baking aisle at the grocery store, you may have noticed that there are different types of vanilla with drastically different price tags. But is there actually a difference? Is vanilla flavoring the same as vanilla extract?
Vanilla extract is a flavoring made using real vanilla pods, while vanilla flavoring uses artificial vanillin and other added ingredients.
Both of these ingredients may taste very similar, but only one is the real deal. The one you use for yourself in your baking will depend on your budget.
In this article, we are going to explore what vanilla extract and vanilla flavoring are and what the difference is between the two.
Let’s dive in.
What is Vanilla Extract?
Vanilla extract is a liquid created by soaking vanilla pods in alcohol to extract the flavor. (*)
The tincture created is only made up of alcohol and vanilla. There will be no added sugars or flavoring.
The FDA specifies that there must be a minimum of 35% alcohol with 100g beans per liter to be classified as an extract.
Vanilla pods grow on unique plants called vanilla orchids that are only grown in limited areas such as Tahiti, Madagascar, Mexico, and Indonesia. They are hand-picked from the orchids and dried before being distributed.
Since vanilla pods are only grown in certain areas and picked so carefully, it means that pure vanilla extract is rather costly.
What is Vanilla Flavoring?
Vanilla flavoring is a liquid flavoring made using synthetic vanillin.
Vanillin is the compound that gives vanilla its flavor. The synthetic version is mixed with corn syrup and lignin to create vanilla flavoring.
Since there is no real vanilla in this product, it is sold for relatively cheap, so it is the option used the most often in home kitchens.
It tastes very similar to vanilla extra but with a slightly bitter aftertaste.
Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Flavoring: Is It The Same?
Now that we have broken down each of these products let’s compare vanilla extract and vanilla flavoring side by side.
- Vanilla extract is more expensive than vanilla flavoring.
- Both have a strong vanilla flavor.
- Vanilla extract is made using real vanilla, while vanilla flavoring is synthetic.
- Extract is only alcohol and vanilla, while flavoring has added ingredients.
- Extract has no aftertaste, while flavoring has a bitter aftertaste.
At the end of the day, it will be easy to tell the difference between real extract and flavoring because of the price.
If you are still unsure, we recommend reading the labels to see if it contains real vanilla.
Although using the real thing is very appealing, we like using both of these products. We suggest honestly thinking about your budget before spending a lot of money on vanilla extract.
Can you use vanilla flavoring in place of the extract?
We know that cooking with the real thing is ideal, but not all of us can afford those prices!
You can substitute vanilla flavoring for extract in a 1:1 ratio.
You can also use vanilla paste or seeds as a substitution in smaller quantities.
What happens if you forget to add vanilla extract?
First of all, don’t worry; your baked goods will be ok!
Vanilla extract is purely a flavoring, so leaving it out won’t affect the way a cake or cookie bakes. It will merely change the flavor slightly.
If you are making something that needs to be filled or iced, maybe consider adding the vanilla to that to add the flavor in somehow.
How can I use a vanilla pod?
If you’ve decided to treat yourself and buy a real vanilla pod to bake with, there are a few easy you can use it.
First off, you want to split the pod down the middle and open it to expose the seeds. Use the flat of a knife to scrape the seeds out from top to bottom.
These seeds can be added to any dessert to add a delicious vanilla flavor. You only need to use a tiny amount to make a significant flavor impact.
Be sure to keep the pod, as you can boil it in milk that will be used to make custards and ice creams.
So, what conclusions can we come to after looking at these products in depth?
- Vanilla extract is a flavoring made from real vanilla and alcohol.
- Vanilla flavoring is a synthetic flavoring with corn syrup and lignin as added ingredients.
- Vanilla extract is far more expensive than vanilla flavoring.
So, the next time you’re in the baking aisle, and you go to grab some vanilla, you have all the information you need to pick the perfect version for you.
Up Next: Vanilla Extract Shelf Life: Does It Go Bad or Expire?