Recipes Past & Present – Vanilla: Pure Extract Or Vanillin? – July 30, 2021

Who doesn’t love vanilla, it’s one of our most popular flavours. The majority of the world’s pure vanilla comes from V. planifolia (an orchid species), more commonly known as Bourbon vanilla or Madagascar. This vanilla produced in Madagascar and Indonesia represents two-thirds of the world’s supply of vanilla. However, overall production of natural vanilla worldwide is tiny. Not surprisingly the cost of pure vanilla has skyrocketed as  global demand for vanilla beans far outstrips production, leading to the creation of numerous artificial or imitation vanilla products. To replicate the taste of real vanilla, companies synthesized vanillin, the main flavour component of cured vanilla beans, 

Undoubtedly, the best vanilla extract is pure vanilla made only from natural vanilla beans, water, alcohol and free from colourings, preservatives or other additives (it is possible to get alcohol-free vanilla, made with organic glycerin, water, and extractives of organic vanilla beans). There are strict regulations for what may be named pure vanilla extract. Vanillin, on the other hand, is not as strictly regulated as long as brands label their foods with “artificial” or “imitation” vanilla. Most imitation vanilla extracts are a weak solution of naturally dried (from lignin or wood pulp) or artificially derived (synthesized in a lab) vanillin. 

  If cost is a consideration, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. When choosing pure or imitation, there are certain guidelines. “Used in oven-baked goods, such as cakes and cookies, it’s almost impossible to taste the difference between the flavor of items prepared with imitation vanilla or pure vanilla extract. Basically, for baked goods, imitation vanilla flavor will be fine. In low-heat sweets, such as puddings, pastry creams, and icings, the taste difference is more noticeable. For best results use pure vanilla extract (or paste) for no-bake treats, simmered sauces. custards, and frozen desserts.”1

Vanilla Orange Cider


  • 8 cups apple cider or juice
  • ¼ cup packed brown sugar
  • ¼ cup thawed organge juice
  • 1/8 teaspon salt
  • 3 cinnamon sticks
  • 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  • ¼  teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • orange slices for serving


  1. In a large saucepan, combine apple cider, brown sugar, organge juice and salt. Tie cinnamon sticks and cloves  in a double thickenss of cheesecloth with ends gathered together and secured with string. Add to pan.
  2. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat, simmer covered for 1 hour to blend flavours. Discard spice bag. Stir in vanilla. Serve with organge slices.

HINT: Vanilla isn’t just for the kitchen. Use it to freshen potpourri or remove odours from microwaves, fridges and coolers. Add a little bit of vanilla to paint to minimize the smell, and you can even keep insects away by mixing a teaspoon of pure vanilla with 1 cup of water and spraying it on your skin (bugs hate the scent). 

1Walsh, Karla; Better Homes and Gardens, August 19, 2020

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