Vanilla extract is a widely used ingredient in baked goods, ice creams and various other desserts. The flavor is derived from a blend of natural and artificial flavors; the highest quality extracts include real vanilla beans in their formulations. Although the ingredients of vanilla extract will vary depending upon brand, price and location, there are a number of ones common to most formulations which are highlighted here.
Artificial caramel coloring is one of the most common ingredients in vanilla extracts. This component adds no flavor to the extract itself, but is added to imitate the deep coloring of vanilla beans themselves. There are some vanilla extracts on the market (in addition to homemade extracts) that do not utilize caramel coloring and are thus clearer in appearance.
Water is another prevalent ingredient in vanilla extracts. This is what gives the extract the liquid consistency that aids in evenly distributing vanilla flavor throughout a dish. One of the big differences between the quality levels of vanilla extracts is exactly how much water is used. Many homemade recipes call for less water and more alcohol, such as vodka, in the making of vanilla extract.
Despite its bitter taste when sampled alone, sugar is a very important component of vanilla extract. Sugar is an excellent vehicle for infusing vanilla into, whether the flavoring is authentic or artificial. Sugar also serves to balance the ethyl content in extract, making it more palatable in prepared dishes.
Ethyl vanillin is the ingredient in artificial and imitation vanilla extracts that provides the predominant flavor. Quality wise, there are slight variations in the formulation of vanillin resulting in more or less authentic vanilla flavor. One of the easiest ways to immediately tell the difference between a true vanilla extract and an artificial one is whether vanillin is listed as an ingredient (for reference, ethyl vanillin is the same thing as vanillin).
Top of the line vanilla extracts will almost always require derivatives of real vanilla beans in their formulation. The strong vanilla flavor can be extracted from both the tiny beans and the thin pod from which they are retrieved. There are several types of vanilla beans that can be utilized as an ingredient in extract; one of the most popular (and expensive) is the Madagascar vanilla bean grown and shipped from East Africa.
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