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.
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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