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What is vanilla extract and how you can use it

You’ve probably heard of vanilla being used in many desserts and drinks. From coffees to baked goods, this ingredient is even used in savory food items and has undoubtedly been around for a while. 

You might also wonder how this versatile flavor is extracted, how you can use it, and if it’s vegan and gluten-free. 

However, before we get into that, let’s answer the most basic question: “What is vanilla extract and what makes it unique?”

What is vanilla extract?

Vanilla extract is a liquid solution derived from a vanilla bean grown in a pod of a tropical orchid plant. The bean is then soaked in the solution for several months, during which time the flavor is extracted from it. 

Vanilla dates back to the 15th century, where it was first cultivated in Mexico. 

The flavor is so strong and concentrated that only a small amount needs to be added for its taste and aroma. This is why vanilla extract is often regarded as ‘liquid gold.’

There are variations of vanilla extract that are common and cheaper than pure vanilla extract. These artificial vanilla solutions are synthetically made and only half as rich in flavor as the real deal. 

Nevertheless, they can still be used in baked goods. 

Does vanilla extract go bad?

If you’re using pure vanilla extract and not artificial vanilla, you should not be worried about it going bad. 

Pure vanilla extract can last for years because it’s alcohol-based. Due to this, the extract becomes more concentrated and intense as the alcohol starts evaporating over-time.

If you have pure vanilla extract, you can use it for up to ten years.

Is vanilla extract gluten-free?

Since the vanilla extract is a solution that contains vanilla, alcohol, and water, the question arises whether the vanilla extract is gluten-free or not.Vanilla extract is considered gluten-free as the alcohol distillation process in making the extract removes traces of gluten. The alcohol level is also well below 20ppm after the distillation process; thus, it is free of gluten.

Is vanilla extract vegan?

Almost all vanilla extracts are considered vegan. Since the pure vanilla extract is made from a plant, there’s no doubt that it is vegan. However, artificial vanilla extracts can contain castoreum obtained from the anal glands of a beaver. But because extracting castoreum is a rather arduous and expensive task, vanilla extracts are relatively rare. If you’re not buying pure vanilla extract, make sure you do your research and contact the manufacturer to know whether the artificial one is 100% vegan. 

What is the difference between vanilla & vanilla extract?

Vanilla is a flavor that’s directly taken out of the orchid plants. Vanilla extract is also a flavor of vanilla but is extracted from soaking the vanilla beans for months. The main difference between vanilla flavor and vanilla extract is that the latter contains more alcohol. There’s about 30% alcohol in vanilla extract and only 2-3% in vanilla flavor. The vanilla flavor also consists of glycerin, which is not present in vanilla extract. Out of the two, vanilla extract is more potent and richer in flavor.

How to store vanilla extract?

You have to store your vanilla extract in a dark environment and at room temperature, preferably 60-80°F. You can keep your vanilla extract in a cupboard as long as it is not near a stove or any heat source. It’s not advised to store vanilla extract in a refrigerator or freezer as that will spoil its concentration. 

How to use vanilla extract

You can use this flavor in a variety of ways in your desserts. The most common way to use vanilla extract is in desserts, but it goes well with savory items. Even if you’re making (chocolate brownies)[], adding a tinge of vanilla extract can bring out the flavor of chocolate in them. You can even add a few drops of vanilla extract to your iced coffee to elevate its taste. Here are some of the other ways you can use it:

  • Add it in cookies, crème Brulee, and other desserts.
  • Use it with different kinds of fancy smoothies and cocktails.
  • Add a few drops to caramelized roasted vegetables to enhance their taste
  • Use it as a substitute for wine in your risotto by adding a few tablespoons of it.

The bottom line

Vanilla extract is easily one the perfect flavors to add to savory foods, desserts, and even drinks. 

But if you want to go the extra mile, try making home-made vanilla ice cream. It’s fresh, natural, and packed with this flavor.

Now that you know everything about pure vanilla extract, don’t forget to incorporate it into your foods to elevate their taste.