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April 12, 2015

The Vanilla Queen’s Vanilla Extract

by Anne Paddock

Flavorful. Sustainable. Simply the best.                                                                           ~The Vanilla Queen

Years ago, an article in Cooks Illustrated convinced me to do a taste test between real and artificial vanilla extracts. The conclusion: always choose pure vanilla extract over artificial vanilla extract because of the flavor difference. Real vanilla extract (and there are many types – each with its own nuanced flavor) is rich and a bit creamy, smooth, slightly sweet, fruity, and cherry-like with a floral fragrance whereas the imitation lacks these qualities.

To discern the difference between real vanilla extract and vanilla flavor or artificial vanilla extract, simply dip your finger in both and taste. The real vanilla extract will easily reveal itself to your taste buds. Once your palette can distinguish between the two, consider two cartons of vanilla ice cream: one made with real vanilla extract and the other with artificial vanilla extract. One bite will reveal the imposter just as one bite of a biscuit or piece of cake will tell you if butter, margarine or oil has been used.

Real vanilla extract is made by softening and cooking ground vanilla beans in alcohol and distilled water to produce a liquid that contains a minimum of 35% alcohol and 100 grams of vanilla beans per liter whereas artificial vanilla extract is made with artificial vanillin which comes from lignin (a by-product of the wood industry) or guaiacol (produced in the gut of desert locusts). I don’t know which is worse…locusts or wood. The best bet is to stick with real vanilla extract.

Many extracts also contain varying amounts of sugar and some companies even use corn syrup, caramel color and artificial flavors. The Vanilla Queen’s vanilla extracts contain none of these ingredients and are limited to vanilla bean extractive, water and sugar cane alcohol. Sugar cane alcohol means the extracts are non-GMO and gluten-free, although the certified organic vanilla does have ethyl alcohol so it isn’t gluten-free.

Vanilla is not cheap. In fact, real vanilla extract is expensive (about $2 an ounce) but a bottle goes a long way and lasts for years if stored in a cool dry place. Although most supermarkets carry real vanilla extract, many of these products are mediocre in quality compared to the fine vanilla extracts available through The Vanilla Queen (yes, she really does exist) who uses a cold extraction process and 20% more beans than required to make The Vanilla Company’s 7 pure vanilla extracts:

Rain’s Choice Organic Vanilla Extract: Made with the most common vanilla bean (vanilla planifolia), this vanilla is perfect to use for cakes, cookies, and pastries. Made with three ingredients: purified water, organic ethyl alcohol, and organic vanilla beans, the 16-ounce bottle is $32. My cabinet always contains a bottle of this vanilla extract. For those who don’t bake often, a 4 ounce bottle can be purchased for $15 at Vanilla Enchantment.certified-organic-vanilla-extract

Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract: A vanilla extract made with three ingredients: purified water, sugar cane alcohol (35%), and premium Madagascar vanilla beans. Used in baking, a 16-ounce bottle is $28. A 4-ounce bottle can be purchased for $13 at Vanilla Enchantment.Madagascar-Vanilla-Extract

Double Fold Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract: Twice the quantity of Madagascar vanilla beans are used to make this concentrated double-strength vanilla extract favored by dessert, candy, and drink makers who want to use less liquid in a recipe but get a more intense vanilla flavor. A 16 ounce bottle is $36.

Tahitian Vanilla Extract: Sweeter and fruitier than the Organic Vanilla Extract and Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract, this vanilla is used in fruit compote or creamy desserts like rice pudding or ice cream. Made with purified water, 35% ethyl alcohol, and vanilla beans, this kitchen favorite comes in a 16-ounce bottle that sells for $28. A 4 ounce bottle is $13 at Vanilla Enchantment.pure-tahitian-vanilla-extract

Double Fold Tahitian Vanilla Extract: Made with twice the amount of Tahitian vanilla beans to make this concentrated double strength vanilla extract favored by dessert, candy, and drink makers who want to use less liquid in a recipe but get a more intense sweet vanilla flavor. Made with purified water, sugar cane alcohol (35%), and premium Tahitian vanilla beans. A 16 ounce bottle is $36.

Mexican Vanilla Extract: Made from vanilla plants indigenous to Mexico, purified water, sugar cane alcohol (35%), and sugar (3%), this pure vanilla extract is especially good in chocolate dishes. Smooth and creamy, a 16-ounce bottle is $36. A 4 ounce bottle is $14 at Vanilla Enchantment. This is the real deal and what people talk about when they refer to Mexican vanilla extract.

Indonesian Blend Vanilla Extract: Indonesian vanilla beans are known for their slightly smoky flavor and are favored by commercial production bakers for baked goods. 1 gallon (64 ounces) is $76.

To purchase on-line, go to the company website: www.vanillaqueen.com. Smaller bottles (4 and 8 ounce bottles for $13-$20) can be purchased at Vanilla Enchantment (www.kitchenproject.com) or at www.AbesMarket.com (with free shipping for all orders over $29).

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