The Difference Between Pure And Imitation Vanilla

The Difference Between Pure and Imitation Vanilla
by Jason Coon

pure vanilla vs imitation vanilla | What's the difference?

Why Use PURE Vanilla?
Vanilla is one of the world’s most popular flavors.  There are a lot of misconceptions, though, of what the difference is between imitation/artificial vanilla and pure vanilla.
Pure Vanilla Extract
Pure vanilla extract is made by several processes such as macerating, perculating or cold extraction of the vanilla bean in a minimum of 35% alcohol and water.  The alcohol percentage used is set as an industry standard by the FDA.  (Singing Dog Vanilla uses cold extraction. It’s organic vanilla extract uses organic, non-GMO alcohol and its non-organic extract uses non-GMO alcohol and no sugar added)
Pure Vanilla Flavor
Pure Vanilla Flavor is similar to pure vanilla extract but it does not use alcohol in its extraction process.  Instead, glycerin is used to draw out the vanilla bean’s rich flavor.
Imitation or Artificial Vanilla
Imitation or Artificial Vanilla is produced without using vanilla beans. Many times imitation vanilla products tend to have a harsh quality with a bitter aftertaste. Even though imitation vanilla is less expensive than pure vanilla, twice as much imitation vanilla flavoring is required to match the strength of pure vanilla extract. Some imitation vanillas contain alcohol.  Most alcohols used for this purpose are made from genetically modified sugars or corn.
Here are some of the ways “fake” vanillas are manufactured:
Plant Based Imitation Vanilla Flavor
Paper Company Waste
Imitation or artificial vanilla is made from artificial flavorings, most of which come from wood byproducts and often contain chemicals to achieve the desired flavor.  Produced synthetically from lignin, a natural polymer found in wood, this synthetic vanillin is a byproduct from the pulp used in papermaking, in which the lignin is broken down using sulfites or sulfates.
Coal- Tar
Ethyl Vanillin is derivative of coal-tar. It is more expensive to manufacture but stronger in concentration.
Rice Bran
Although an expensive alternative, vanillan flavor is starting to be extracted from rice bran.
Animal Based Imitation Vanilla Flavor
Beaver Scent Gland Secretion
Yes, as crazy as it sounds, the FDA allows companies that produce imitation vanilla to use the scent fluids of a beaver as “natural flavorings”. This type of “natural flavoring” is also used in flavoring cigarettes and strawberry and raspberry products.  Castoreum is the yellowish secretion of the castor sac which is, in combination with the beaver’s urine, used during scent marking of territory. Both male and female beavers possess a pair of castor sacs located in two cavities under the skin between the pelvis and the base of the tail. The methods of either anesthetizing the live beaver and ‘milking’ the castor sacs or harvesting wild beavers by hunters who are paid between $10-40 a beaver, costs significantly more than synthetically processing tree pulp which comes from the waste of making paper, so much less beaver castoreum is used in the manufacturing industry today.
There are also some possible safety issues with Imitation Vanilla
Cheap Mexican Vanilla- BEWARE!!!
Have you ever heard of “cheap Mexican vanilla” by the gallon?  Well, unfortunately, that type of “real” vanilla is very likely made with a toxic ingredient.  Here’s why.  Mexico is the only place on the planet that vanilla was found growing naturally.  Because of this, vanilla became the “flavor of Mexico”.  However, because of political unrest and natural disasters over a few centuries, the vanilla industry moved away from Mexico and across the globe to areas with similar climates.  Because of the vanilla shortages that these events had on Mexico’s agriculture, Mexican vanilla producers began producing imitation vanilla flavorings while labeling them as “real Mexican vanilla”.  And here in lies the danger.  Many of these “cheap Mexican vanillas” are to this day made with an artificial flavoring called coumarin.  Coumarin was outlawed in the United States 70 years ago because it can cause liver and kidney failure in high concentrations but is extremely cheap to manufacture. Because Mexican labeling laws often times don’t have the regulatory controls we do in the US, the bottle may SAY it doesn’t contain coumarin, when likely it does.  So, like the old adage, “If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is”.

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