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Aug 2, 2010 04:28 PM

Vanilla "Flavor" vs. Extract?

The other day I was at Trader Joe's I picked up what I thought was vanilla extract, and when I came home I saw it is actually called "Pure Vanilla Flavor." I've always known that "Imitation Vanilla Extract" was a no-no and that you should always go for actual extract, but is "flavor" essentially the same thing as the imitation extract, under a different name?

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  1. That's something I never noticed. What are the ingredients listed on the label? If it's vanilla bean and alcohol, it's extract. "Vanillin" is the artificial stuff. Interwstingly, Cook's Illustrated did a test some years ago and could not tell the difference between the two in baked goods. This led me to try it. The smell in the bottle is distinctly different and for me, the taste of the cookies made with imitation suffered.

    2 Replies
    1. re: greygarious

      "Glycerin, sugar, water, vanilla bean extractives,"....

      1. re: arielleeve

        I think what you have is a non-alcoholic vanilla extract. Possibly the term "extract" means the presence of alcohol, which would explain why yours is called flavor. My bottle of pure extract also has corn syrup and water, so the distinction is between the alcohol and the glycerin. I would think you'd use it the same way. If you'd gotten it someplace like Penzey's I'd wonder if it was for a specific purpose like candy-making. But TJ's doesn't stock a panoply of specialty flavorings so their product should be all purpose. Wikipedia didn't mention vanilla flavor at all. Learned something, though - bourbon vanilla does not mean there's bourbon in it; it refers to the Bourbon dynasty.

    2. By law Pure Vanilla Extract must contain at least 35% alcohol (by volume) in the final product and have contained at least 13.35 oz. of vanilla beads per gallon in the extraction mixture. The final product may contain sugar but it is not required.

      Imitation Vanilla Extract is primarily vanillin, most often extracted from wood pulp.

      Vanilla Flavor may contain a combination of vanilla extract and imitation flavor.

      2 Replies
      1. re: kmcarr

        "from wood pulp." like whiskey? I just a had a light bulb moment; sorry.

        1. re: Altarbo

          It's just like wine getting its vanilla flavor from wood barrels.

      2. This post sent me running to my cupboard to taste and smell both the vanilla extract and the imitation. Both have alcohol in them, but the pure vanilla was warm and sweet by scent and taste. The imitation tasted and smelled sharper, and far more alcoholic.

        Thinking about what greygarious posted, I wonder if what you have is a product that tries to bridge the gap between the distinct taste differences between the real and the artificial by eliminating alcohol from the 'flavored' product.

        1. The original comment has been removed
          1. Collk's Illustrated: "Is imitation vanilla still a winner?"

            "Despite the widespread hue and cry in the food world about the inferiority of imitation vanilla—experts agree that it lacks the flavor nuances and subtleties of pure vanilla extract—our tasters found it to be perfectly acceptable in cake and custard. The
            imitation vanillas earned high enough scores to be recommended alongside all of the pure vanillas. In fact, every extract we tasted scored its way into the “recommended” category of the chart on page 27. The numerical spread in the scores of all eight vanillas was an unusually small 1.25 points (more typical of Cook’s tastings is a 3- to 4-point spread, based on a scale of 10), meaning that tasters struggled to detect differences in the samples. In the cake, differences were essentially indistinguishable, and they were just barely more apparent in the custard sauce. When we really pressed tasters to declare a preference, many
            chose the imitation vanilla, noting that its flavor was stronger and easier to detect."

            "Real Vanilla vs. Imitation: Results from my experiment"

            “What is the origin of vanilla and what is the difference between artificial vanilla and vanilla extract?”