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Coupon Abbreviations
  • SC = Store Coupon
  • MC = Manufacturer Coupon
  • SS = Smart Source
  • RP = Red Plum
  • PG = Proctor and Gamble
Coupon Terms
  • WYB = When You Buy
  • B1G1 = Buy One Get One Free
  • .75/1 = 75 cents off one item
  • .75/3 = 75 cents off three items
  • EXP = Expiration Date

Going Nuts? I can help you understand coupon terms and abbreviations

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Real vs Artificial Vanilla in the Organic Living Journey

Fall is in the air and pumpkin recipes are popping up all over my Facebook and Pinterest feeds. As fall baking flows into the holidays, our ovens may get a little more use than usual. A few months ago, we learned about organic vs. conventional spices. Organic spices are not only grown organically, they are also processed organically, without fumigation and irradiation. What about our vanilla extract? Shopping for vanilla, you’ll see a huge price range from a couple dollars to $15-30 for a bottle. What are you paying for? Does the higher price tag equal a better product? Should you prioritize organic vanilla?

Types of Vanilla

About

Manufacture

Uses

Vanilla Pods (Bean)

The fruit of the vanilla orchid. Contains the flavorful seeds inside a tough pod.

Pods are picked and then “killed” by being steeped in water or dried in the sun. Pods are then cured and fermented.

The whole pod may be used to flavor foods during cooking. The pod is also used in the making of natural vanilla extract.

Vanilla Extract

The vanilla flavors are extracted from the pod and stored in a liquid.

Vanilla pods or cuts are steeped in water and alcohol to extract the flavor compounds. The pods are removed before packaging the extract.

Liquid flavor extract.

Imitation Vanilla (vanillin)

Vanillin flavor compound synthesized and extracted from other sources.

Byproduct of the wood pulp (paper) or coal tar industries. Chemically produced and isolated.

Liquid flavoring added to recipes or commercially to manufactured foods, pharmaceuticals, and beauty products.

Real vs. Artificial

extract 1

Natural vanilla has over 250 unique flavor compounds contributing to the overall vanilla flavor. Artificial vanilla has just one: vanillin. When you buy a natural vanilla extract, you’re getting a completely different product than when you buy vanilla flavoring. In fact, vanilla flavoring isn’t made from the vanilla pod at all.

What’s the difference?

Natural vanilla extract is made by steeping the vanilla bean pods in water and ethyl alcohol, extracting the oils and flavors from the beans. If you want to get specific, true extract will have at least 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of extract and the alcohol will be 70 proof. Sounds simple enough, right? It is. You can do this yourself at home and produce high-quality vanilla (in large quantities) for a fraction of the price! (Recipe below)

Artificial vanilla is a chemically synthesized byproduct of the paper industry or from coal tar. Not so easy to DIY. In taste tests conducted by Cooks Illustrated magazine, people couldn’t tell a difference between the flavor of natural vanilla and imitation vanilla when used in foods. Why?

When you cook or heat natural vanilla, many of those 250+ flavor compounds are lost. The vanillin flavor compound is not. (Vanillin is the only flavor in artificial vanilla.) Using natural vanilla in recipes that are not heated or adding the vanilla at the end of the cooking cycle will preserve the most flavor. With the significantly lower price of artificial vanilla flavoring, it has become the more popular choice for the food manufacturing industry.

Labeling Laws: Why your “100% pure” vanilla extract isn’t’ “pure” afterall

extract 2If you have a bottle of vanilla extract in the pantry, take a look at its ingredients. A bottle of McCormick’s 100% Pure vanilla extract may have a surprising ingredient listed: corn syrup. If it’s 100% pure as the label advertises, then why is there corn syrup there? The FDA’s labeling law states that the flavoring is “100% pure” if the only source of that particular flavor is the vanilla. Legally, your “pure” vanilla extract may contain: glycerin, propylene glycol, sugar, dextrose, and/or corn syrup.

Not all bottles of McCormick vanilla extract will contain corn syrup, because formulations and batches may vary. Regardless of the brand, check your ingredient label…always!

Health Benefits of Natural Vanilla

It’s no superfood, but vanilla does have some nice perks. The vanilla bean pod contains antioxidants, and up to 90% of those antioxidants are preserved in vanilla extract. Vanilla has also shown anti-inflammatory properties and liver-protecting properties in animal studies. At high doses, it has shown cholesterol-lowering abilities in studies.

Vanilla Flavoring Health Concerns?

Without a doubt, artificial vanilla is more processed than vanilla extract…but is it bad for you? A few studies have shown the potential for allergic reactions to vanillin. Other studies have shown that sensitive individuals may get migraines, triggered by vanillin. If you’re trying to avoid processed foods, skip the vanilla flavoring and stick with an additive-free vanilla extract.

Organic vs. Conventional

Certified organic vanilla beans (and vanilla products) will be free of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides. You will see a bit of a price difference in the organic vs. conventional vanilla beans and the extracts/flavorings, but shopping online will help reduce the price gap. I found ¼ lb (4 oz) of organic vanilla beans for $25 on Amazon.com (with Subscribe and Save), about the same price as the conventional beans!

If you’d like to buy an organic vanilla extract, there are plenty of good options available. At my local grocery store, I found a 2 oz bottle of organic vanilla for about $6, 4 oz for $10, and 8 oz for $20. You can save a few dollars on Amazon and buy a 4 oz bottle of organic vanilla extract for $7 ($1.75 per ounce) with Subscribe and Save. In comparison, the conventional vanilla extract was just $0.30 cheaper (4 oz size).

Boutique Vanilla Extracts

extract 3

Another price gap you’ll notice are the new “boutique” vanilla extracts selling for $15-30 per bottle. Vanilla beans can vary in price based on the grade or origin/source. Grade “A” vanilla beans are softer, more supple, and have a higher moisture content. Grade “B” beans are more dry and may be blemished or damaged. The grade of the bean is not indicative of the flavor, however. So, when you’re shopping to make extract, a grade B bean is fine. For cooking and slicing, a grade A bean may be easier to use.

Vanilla extract’s price may also be affected by the bean’s origin (Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Uganda, Madagascar, etc.) and whether it is a single origin bean – meaning the whole batch came from the same farm. Vanilla extract sourced from Madagascar (Bourbon vanilla) has the most classic vanilla flavor, but an extract’s flavor will vary with the various countries of origin.

To the vanilla connoisseur, I’m sure the differences in grade and origin are all notable. But…even to the well-trained palate (referring to the Cook’s Illustrated taste-test), the taste difference is indiscernible between artificial vanilla and vanilla extract, let alone a boutique single-origin vanilla. Although I love special, unique “foodie” items, I don’t think I’ll be buying into the boutique vanilla market any time soon. If you’ve tried a boutique vanilla, is there anything I’m missing?

DIY Vanilla Extract

For the best-tasting and best-priced organic vanilla extract, make your own! I’ve been making my own vanilla extract for a few years now; it’s dead easy and fool-proof. All you need is some liquor, some vanilla beans, and time.

Materials

6 vanilla bean pods (about 1 ounce of beans)
8 ounces of 35-40% alcohol (about 70-80 proof) such as vodka, bourbon, or rum, organic or local if you can find i
Glass bottle or jar

Directions

  1. Slice the vanilla pod lengthwise and place in glass jar. (Cut pods into shorter lengths, if needed.)

  2. Cover pods completely with alcohol. Do not leave any of the pod exposed to air.

  3. Seal the bottle and wait. The pods should steep at least one month but may be left for longer. Flavor continues to develop and intensify over time. I wait 10-12 weeks to get a rich extraction.

  4. When the extract is ready, you may remove the pods or leave them in the alcohol.

Eventually, the pods will be stripped of their flavors, but you may continue to “feed” your extract with new pods. Want to reuse the pods after making extract? Let them dry and store in sugar to create a vanilla sugar!

DIY Vanilla Extract

Cost Breakdown
6 vanilla bean pods = $5.00
8 oz vodka = about $3

Total Cost: $8.00 for 8 oz ($1.00 per ounce)

Perspective

Do you have to hurry up and replace your vanilla extract before baking? Probably not. However, you should consider starting up your own batch of homemade vanilla, ASAP! Start a large batch now and bottle some up as holiday gifts for teachers, hostesses, or friends. You can find decorative 2-4 oz glass bottles at a craft store or use small mason jars.

If you’re not up for making your own vanilla extract, check out the organic vanilla extract next time you’re shopping. The price gap isn’t huge and you can cut out some chemicals and pesticides. Always check the ingredients label and look out for any additives!

Have you made your own vanilla extract? Any other tips to share? Let us know!

This is part of an Organic Living Journey Guest Post Series now written by Mariana who has a mother’s heart and scientist’s brain.

    • mommalana

      I do make my own and I keep two bottles going at all times. I am using one while the other is steeping a new batch. I don’t think I could go back to store vanilla since it has less flavor and aroma. It is so simple to do! My two main bottles are made with vodka but I also have a bottle of extract made with rum for some recipes that I make because the flavor is a little different.

    • Joan George Sprouse

      I have never made my own but want to try! Do you just let it set out or do you put it in the fridge?

    • Dana S.

      these articles are so interesting. You are doing an enormous amount of research and I am learning so much. Please be encouraged that you are doing much good and people like me pray you continue! Your articles and objective insight is much needed and appreciated.