Where Does Imitation Vanilla Come From? Cool Facts On Vanilla Flavor

Martha Martins
Oct 13, 2023 By Martha Martins
Originally Published on Oct 22, 2021
Dried vanilla pods and flower on wooden background.
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Age: 3-18
Read time: 4.2 Min

You may have tasted the sweet flavor of vanilla in your favorite baked goods like cakes, cookies, and ice cream.

Were you aware that what you were tasting might not have actually been real vanilla? It was probably imitation vanilla, made from synthetic vanillin, that you were enjoying.

Synthetic vanilla is a widely-used flavoring in food products across the world. As the name suggests, imitation vanilla is an alternative to natural vanilla, found in food. Imitation vanilla is made from synthetic vanillin, which is a naturally occurring chemical compound in vanilla beans.

Why is there so much hype around this? It may be because of the high cost of natural vanilla flavor. Compared to real vanilla extract, it is more affordable and tastes almost the same as pure vanilla extract.

If you are enjoying this fun-facts article, why not also check out where does food come from? and where does grass seed come from?

What is imitation vanilla?

Vanilla is one of the most expensive spices and is widely used all around the world. Vanilla extract is the most common form of this spice. There are two types of vanilla extract available to buy: pure vanilla extract and artificial vanilla extract. Imitation vanilla is an example of artificial vanilla extract.

Imitation vanilla comes from vanillin, which is made from vanilla beans. This vanillin can also be produced from wood pulp waste, coal tar, cow poop, clove oil, pine bark, or secretions from the castor glands of a beaver.

Therefore, vanilla beans are not the only source of vanillin, which makes the cost to produce imitation vanilla much lower. Due to its low cost, imitation vanilla is the favorite choice of many bakers.

It also comes in a gluten-free option. While some people may be able to notice a difference in taste between the pure and imitation extracts, it is almost impossible to distinguish between the two.

Can you use imitation vanilla flavor instead of vanilla extract?

Vanilla extract is obviously a popular choice when it comes to baking food. That is exactly why there are many artificial vanilla flavors on the market. However, are we making the right decision for our health when it comes to swapping pure vanilla extract with synthetic vanilla?

As we already know, imitation vanilla is a chemically manufactured vanilla flavor designed to taste like vanilla. This chemical compound is not really beneficial to our bodies.

Although it gives our food a nice flavor, in the long run, consuming imitation vanilla does not provide any health benefits. If anything, it might cause headaches.

That being said, it's not too dangerous to produce and use synthetic flavor. It is a suitable substitute for pure vanilla extract that will save you a lot of money and can be kept indefinitely when stored correctly.

McCormick vanilla extract bottle.

Where does imitation vanilla flavoring come from?

Even though the vanillin in imitation vanilla can be found in vanilla beans, the imitation vanilla that we use is synthesized in a laboratory.

The majority of the vanillin is from guaiacol or lignin. Guaiacol is obtained from distilled wood tar.

Vanillin is also said to be extracted from beavers. Castoreum extracted from beavers is said to be used in imitation vanilla. Castoreum is some of the secretions from a beaver's castor gland.

It is a pleasant smelling secretion, used by beavers to communicate with each other. This castoreum is said to be one of the compounds used in imitation vanilla. However, the reality is that it's pretty hard to extract castoreum from a beaver.

So, the chances that beaver's are responsible for the delicious taste of our vanilla flavored foods are fairly low. Coal tar was also once used to make vanilla extract but is only used sparingly because of the health concerns raised along with it.

Why is pure vanilla extract so expensive?

So, why is there a need for synthetic flavor? Is pure vanilla extract really so hard to make? Why is it more costly than synthetic vanilla extract? To answer this, we need to be aware of the components of natural vanilla extract.

Pure vanilla extract is made from mixing vanilla beans in ethyl alcohol and water. The beans are grown, hand-harvested, and shipped to different countries. Hence, it is costly to manufacture and sell vanilla extract.

This bean is derived from vanilla orchids. The whole process of getting the beans, fermenting them and soaking them in alcohol and water becomes a highly expensive procedure.

Since it is high quality and tastes sweet in cookies and ice cream, there is a high demand for vanilla extract. Some people prefer not to have alcohol in their vanilla extract, so there was a need to find a suitable substitute for pure vanilla flavor. That is how imitation vanilla became popular among bakers.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for where does imitation vanilla come from, cool facts on vanilla flavor, then why not take a look at what are truffle mushroom?

and where do truffles come from, or where does beef come from? does beef come from cows or bulls?

Article Image credit: Julie Clopper / Shutterstock.com

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Written by Martha Martins

Bachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha Martins picture

Martha MartinsBachelor of Arts specializing in Linguistics

Martha is a full-time creative writer, content strategist, and aspiring screenwriter who communicates complex thoughts and ideas effectively. She has completed her Bachelor's in Linguistics from Nasarawa State University. As an enthusiast of public relations and communication, Martha is well-prepared to substantially impact your organization as your next content writer and strategist. Her dedication to her craft and commitment to delivering high-quality work enables her to create compelling content that resonates with audiences.

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