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Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is a solution containing the flavor compound vanillin. Pure vanilla extract is made by macerating/percolating vanilla beans in a solution of ethyl alcohol and water. In the United States, in order for a vanilla extract to be called pure, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that the solution contain a minimum of 35% alcohol and 13.35 ounces of vanilla bean per gallon. Double and triple strength (till 20 fold) vanilla extracts are available.

Vanilla extract is the most common form of vanilla used today. Mexican, Tahitian, Indonesian, and Bourbon vanilla are the main varieties. Bourbon vanilla is named for the period when the island of Reunion was ruled by the Bourbon kings of France; it does not contain Bourbon whiskey.

Natural vanilla flavoring is derived from real vanilla beans with little to no alcohol. The maximum amount that is usually found is only 2%-3%. Imitation vanilla extract is usually made by soaking alcohol into wood, which contains vanillin. Vanillin is chemically treated to mimic the taste of vanilla.

Intoxication
As with many other preparations made from alcohol - perfumes, colognes, aftershaves, mouthwashes, cold preparations, other food flavorings, etc. - it is theoretically possible to become intoxicated by drinking enough vanilla extract. There have been two documented cases. Adulterants, such as coumarin, commonly used in vanilla extract can cause sickness and liver damage if taken in extremely high doses.

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