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Is Vanilla Extract Vegan? Can Vegans Consume Vanilla Extract?

Is Vanilla Extract Vegan? Can Vegans Consume Vanilla Extract?

Answer: Yes.

Is Vanilla Extract Vegan? Can Vegans Consume Vanilla Extract?

Is Vanilla Extract Vegan?

From cakes, drinks, desserts, and other bakeries, vanilla extract has long been the crowd-favorite among people. The vanilla extract is known for its simple, delicate flavor. 

Although, you would want to check all your edibles to be 100% sure. So, you might have wondered, is vanilla extract vegan?

Yes, almost all vanilla extracts are entirely vegan, including artificial ones. However, rarely are they suspected to be taken from the beaver gland called castoreum. Yet, that was followed long ago, and these are primarily extracted from vanilla pods. So, it is better to check the ingredients before choosing. 

But how do you figure out if the vanilla extract you take is a 100% vegan product to avoid mishaps? For this, let’s look at vanilla extracts in more detail. 

Preparation of Vanilla Extract

You get your vanilla extracts made when you soak the vanilla plant pods in water and alcohol.

There are two methods by which you can prepare the vanilla extracts based on whether they were made naturally or artificially. 

Natural Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extracts are generally prepared by taking vanilla beans and getting them copped and percolated in steel containers after alcohol and water. Here, it is kept in a cool place for 48 hours before it is filtered and stored. 

The vanilla beans contain vanillin, which gives the natural vanilla flavor. It provides a natural aroma to the flower of the plant. The number of different varieties of vanilla plants is more than 150, but only three are used for commercial purposes. 

According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) flavoring law, the vanilla extract should contain at least 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans for the product to be considered a pure vanilla extract. They want a minimum mix of 35% alcohol to 65% water to get it pure. 

Although FDA does not require it to be of good quality, the pure and natural vanilla extract tastes the same if the quality of the extract is good.

Artificial Vanilla Extract

The artificial or imitation vanilla extracts contain synthetically prepared products like guaiacol from wood pulp, petroleum, and other chemicals. 

Moreover, imitation vanilla extracts contain chemical additives. These are cost-effective and give a richer flavor.

Also, you may witness lignin-based vanillin, which is extracted from wood pulps or the paper manufacturing industries. Else, extracts from glycerol and ethyl vanillin are all taken synthetically and hence under imitation vanilla extract.

Difference Between Vanilla Extract and Vanilla Flavoring

Most people confuse vanilla extract and vanilla flavoring. You might often find the two getting used interchangeably everywhere. 

Even though they are commonly made from vanilla beans, the products labeled as extract and flavoring have some differences that set them apart. 

  • The vanilla flavor does not contain alcohol, unlike vanilla extracts.
  • The vanilla grounded bean powder is responsible for the vanilla flavor.
  • The extract is made from only pure vanilla beans, and the process of soaking does not take place in vanilla flavors.
  • Sometimes, the chemical processing of the vanilla flavor is done by obtaining castoreum from the beaver’s castor sac in the case of imitation vanilla.

List of Ingredients

When you check whether the vanilla extracts are vegan, the most important thing is to go through the list of ingredients mentioned in the product. 

Here, you will have to individually check if that particular ingredient is considered vegan to ensure you are taking in a vegan-friendly product.

The ingredients list of the vanilla extract differs from product to product. 

Also, there are many types of vanilla extracts taken today. They commonly are made with:

  • Vanilla beans: These contain the vanillin compound, and these beans are grown on the Vanilla planifolia, an orchid plant. The vanilla extract must contain 10 ounces or 13.35% of these vanilla beans. These beans have many nutritional properties.
  • Alcohol: 35% of ethanol is used for soaking crushed vanilla beans. Hence, one teaspoon of the extract would at least contain 1.73 milliliters of ethanol. However, since the quantity is low, the alcohol evaporates when you bake or cook these extracts.

Ethanol is made from glucose, starch, or yeast through fermentation and is thus considered vegan-friendly.

  • Water: Along with the alcohol, you soak the beans in 65% distilled water to make them into a vanilla extract. Hence, the vanilla extract contains a diluted mixture of about one cup of water to make it into 35% alcohol.
  • Sugar: Sugar is obtained in many ways, but the refinement process turns it unsuitable for vegans. So, look for unrefined sugar for a vegan product. The sucrose present in the vanilla extract can be both natural and synthetic sugar.
  • Corn syrup: Most vanilla extracts contain corn syrup besides sugar for intensified sweetness added to the mix. The syrup comprises high fructose and is hence plant-based as it does not contain any fiber substances. 
  • Caramel color or other additives: Caramel color is usually extracted from corn. These are derived from plant sources and are considered vegan. Most of the additives used in the vanilla extracts are from vegetable sources or chemically synthesized ones and are vegan-friendly.

Vanilla Extract Nutritional Content 

When you see the list of the main ingredients for the vanilla extract, you will read the nutritional content of these extracts. The product is usually used as a flavor or additive to enhance the aroma or taste of the dish. Hence, they are taken in small quantities. 

So, the vanilla extract does not have a high nutritional content. A teaspoon of vanilla extract can proximately contain 12 calories. Therefore, a 100g of vanilla extract contains:

  • Protein – 0.06g
  • Carbohydrates – 13g
  • Fats – 0.06g
  • Water – 52.58g
  • Ethyl alcohol – 34g
  • Sugar –13g or 531mg
  • Vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6
  • Manganese – 0.5mg
  • Calcium – 0.46mg
  • Phosphorous –0.25mg
  • Potassium – 6.22mg
  • Copper– 32%

Thus, the vanilla extract is low in lipid content and does not contain cholesterol or trans fats. The overall glycemic index is also low, and the pH of the extract comes to around 7.  

Moreover, according to research, the accepted daily intake (ADI) of vanillin is 700mg for a 70kg person, thus, making it 10mg per 1kg.

The Castoreum Controversy

All extracts of vanilla extracts are considered vegan-friendly and are all plant-based products. Some scientists have discovered that the beaver’s castor glands near the anus give the vanilla flavor. The FDA also approved castoreum as a food additive.

Castoreum is produced from the castor sacs found between the tail and pelvis of beavers.

However, the extraction from beaver secretions for castoreum was used previously for extracting vanilla extracts and flavors. Since it is an animal-derived product, it is not considered vegan. 

However, nowadays, castoreum is not used in vanilla extracts as they are expensive and difficult to obtain. 

Hence, using castoreum to make vanilla extracts have become rare. You might even witness castoreum in other products but not in vanilla extracts. 

Health Benefits

Even though vanilla extracts are savored more for their flavor, taste, and aroma, the health benefits of vanillin need to be addressed. This delicate product’s health benefits also depend on whether the product is based on natural or artificial extraction.

The vanilla beans help maintain your health and can provide surprising health benefits:

  • High antioxidant propertiesAntioxidant compounds that protect your body from harmful chemicals are present in vanilla extracts from vanillic acid and vanillin.
  • Antimicrobial properties: The vanilla bud has flavonoids and alkaloids that possess good antimicrobial activity. 
  • Anti-inflammatory properties: The extract also can soothe and prevent inflammation in your body due to its anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Antinociceptive properties: The antinociceptive effect of vanilla extracts reduces your pain and gives pain relief.
  • Anticancer properties: Studies show vanillin present in the vanilla extract can prevent DNA damage and give a therapeutic effect against colon cancer cells. Thus, the extract shows the anticancer effect
  • Anti-filarial properties: The compounds like vanillin and isoeugenol present in the vanilla extract prevent infections.
  • Relieves sleep apnea: If you are having trouble sleeping, taking a teaspoon of vanilla extract provides a calming effect and regulates your sleep cycle. 
  • Anxiety relief: The aroma of the vanilla extract is soothing to the mind and can thus provide relief from anxiety and stress.  
  • Neuroprotective agent: Previous research discusses the vanillin neuroprotective effect. It has the potential impact on treating Huntington’s disease (HD) and ischemia.

Final Verdict

Vanilla extracts are widely loved for their simple, non-overpowering delicate flavor. These are common ingredients in most desserts, baked goods, and drinks. 

The vanillin present in the vanilla extract is mainly taken from the plant and can provide many health benefits. Although using castoreum makes it non-vegan friendly, many sites claim that it’s not common nowadays.

Therefore, vanilla extracts are generally vegan. Check the ingredients to see if they are taken from the vanilla orchid plants.