What is vanilla extract made of?

In this brief article we will address the query,” What is vanilla extract made of?” We will also explain how pure vanilla extract is produced. We will discuss how vanilla essence is made and the forms vanilla comes in. We will finally briefly show you a stepwise procedure of making homemade vanilla extract.

What is vanilla extract made of?

Vanilla extract is primarily made of vanilla beans, water and ethyl alcohol. The vanilla beans are soaked in the water and alcohol solution so as to extract the flavor compounds.

According to the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) regulations, vanilla extract should contain a minimum of 35% alcohol with a minimum of 100g of vanilla beans in a liter. This comes in handy whenever you are shopping around for pure vanilla extract, check the label and only buy one with the only the above 3 ingredients.

Let’s take a closer look at how vanilla extract is produced.

How is pure vanilla extract produced?

100% pure vanilla extract is usually produced from vanilla bean pods that have been aged for about 3 to 4 months so as to develop the requisite vanilla flavors such as high levels of vanillin.

Vanillin also known as vanillic aldehyde is the key chemical extract of the vanilla bean. Once the vanilla beans have cured, they are placed into a mixture containing water and ethyl alcohol. The alcohol helps in the extraction of the main flavor vanilla and other compounds which are infused in the liquid solution.

Commercial manufacturers have come up with an efficient and faster way to do the extraction because it is very time consuming if done in the traditional way. For instance, in a home setup the mixture requires to sit for a good 12 months. 

After the extraction process is completed, the bean pods are usually filtered out and the final extract product is obtained and ready for use.

At this point, you might be thinking where vanilla essence, also known as the imitation vanilla, come from. Well, continue reading to find out.

Where does vanilla essence come from?

Vanilla essence accounts for 99% of the global vanilla extract and it’s no coincidence since pure vanilla extract has to be made from vanilla beans which are expensive.

Vanilla extract is also flavored by vanillin although in this case it is a synthetic version (basically a laboratory produced one similar to the one that naturally occurs in real vanilla beans)

Vanilla extract is said to have its key ingredients from castoreum. Castroreum is a yellow exudate that is derived from the anal glands of mature beavers. It has a smell that mimics vanilla. However, this is highly unlikely due to its high cost.

Other sources claim that it is obtained from inorganic materials such as petroleum. Whatever the case, vanilla essence mimics the vanilla smell but does not match the sophisticated floral and woodsy notes that are contained in a pure vanilla extract.

Vanilla essence is more affordable than pure vanilla extract and is widely used in many desserts and baked products.

Does vanilla come in any other forms?

Yes,vanilla can also come in the form of vanilla bean paste. This is made from a mixture of vanilla bean seeds, extract, sugar and natural gum thickeners. It comes in handy as it’s able to provide the desired speckles at a much more affordable cost.

However the vanilla extract and the whole beans still remain the most desired sources of vanilla flavor.

How can I make homemade vanilla extract?

Making vanilla extract at home is easy although it requires you to have patience. Let’s delve into a step-by-step guide of how to make it.

You will require to gather the below ingredients:

  • 3 to 6 vanilla bean pods ( remember the more you use the stronger the taste)
  • 240 mls  of vodka

Then proceed as below;

  • Cut into half all the vanilla bean pods.
  • In an airtight container preferably a jar or bottle (ensure there are clean) place in the pods and add in the 240mls of vodka until the beans are fully covered.
  • Tightly close the jar or bottle and store in a cool, dry and dark place for 6 weeks to 12 months.
  • Whenever you are ready to make use of your vanilla extract, ensure that you remove the vanilla bean pods.


In this brief article we have addressed the query,” What is vanilla extract made of?” We have also explained how pure vanilla extract is produced. We have discussed how vanilla essence is made and the forms vanilla comes in. We finally briefly showed you a stepwise procedure of making homemade vanilla extract.




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