If you ever make recipes from scratch, there may come a time when you are not sure whether to use real vanilla extract or the imitation version. Any time you compare real products to artificial alternatives, you will likely find you will have to pay a little more for the real deal. But in most cases, there are a few good reasons for that, and vanilla extract is no exception to the rule. If you are having trouble deciding between pure and imitation vanilla extract, you should get to know why the real version is typically the better choice.
Compare the Ingredients and Decide for Yourself
Real vanilla extract always features vanilla beans as a main ingredient. The extract from the beans is achieved by soaking them in water and ethyl alcohol to draw out their natural oils. According to the FDA, all real vanilla extract has to have 35% alcohol and at least 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans for every gallon.
On the other hand, imitation vanilla extract does not contain vanilla beans at all. Instead, it is comprised of chemicals that attempt to imitate the vanilla flavor when combined. More specifically, imitation vanilla extract is often made using either wood or coal. Manufacturers of imitation extract then add a variety of chemicals you may have never heard of in order to achieve a flavor that is similar to vanilla beans.
Further, if you choose imitation over genuine vanilla extract, you are missing out on the many health benefits of the vanilla bean. The following are just some of the vitamins you can get from vanilla beans:
- B vitamins, which can regulate metabolism and help the body produce energy
- Potassium, which can control blood pressure and heart rate
- Iron, which manages red blood cell production
- Calcium, which keeps bones and teeth strong
Plus, the vanilla bean can act as both an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory. Of course, pure extract is also known for being a low-calorie sweetener, while the imitation version has more calories and less flavor. Clearly, the ingredients in each version of extract can make a difference.
Real Vanilla Extract Offers Better Value
Though a bottle of real vanilla extract is often priced higher than the same amount of imitation version, you will find the pure product offers better value. The reason is that it tends to taste much stronger than the imitation extract, so you may end up using only half the amount to get the flavor you are going for. In this way, you are not necessarily saving money when you choose the imitation option.
In addition, artificial flavors can ruin the taste of a dish, especially in a recipe that calls for a large amount of vanilla extract. When you make the mistake of using imitation vanilla, you run the risk of having to throw out the entire dish due to the sub-par flavor. The result is that you waste time, effort, and perhaps most importantly the money you spent on all the ingredients in that dish. In this way, you will likely save money in the long run when you go with the safe bet of real vanilla extract when cooking.
If you are still wondering about the benefits of real vanilla extract, try a bottle of it and see what a difference it makes. You can even obtain flavored extracts in many variations if you want a unique way to enjoy a pure, great tasting product. In the end, we are confident you will not be able to go back to imitation vanilla extract ever again!