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The Biggest Mistake You Can Make When Buying Vanilla

Taste of Home logo Taste of Home 5 days ago Carolyn Lewis
a close up of a sign © HodagMedia/Shutterstock Be it in buttercream frosting or luscious layer cake, we've all used vanilla extract at some point in our baking endeavors. And since the bottles come with a big price tag, we've even found thrifty ways to use every last drop. However, there may be one crucial mistake your making when picking up a bottle of vanilla from the store: buying imitation.

Imitation Vanilla vs. The Real Deal

Apart from price, there are several key differences between imitation and pure vanilla. To start, manufacturers can artificially create vanillin (the compound responsible for vanilla's iconic scent and flavor) without an actual vanilla bean. While this alone might not give pause to some, bakers should take caution when using imitation vanilla as the flavor tends to bake away in the oven more easily than true vanilla. In fact, you may have to use twice as much imitation vanilla to get the same flavor as pure vanilla.

How to Find Quality Vanilla at the Store

Luckily the FDA has strict laws for labeling vanilla. Here's how to decode the vanilla you see in the baking aisle

  • Pure vanilla extract: Any vanilla product that's named "pure" contains vanillin that's derived from real vanilla beans. However, read the label closely. Sugar or corn syrup can still be added to pure vanilla extract to bulk up the bottle.
  • Imitation vanilla extract: Read closely for "imitation" on the label. The vanillin in this bottle could be derived from pine sap, clove or even wood pulp!

The Bottom Line

If you're making a recipe that contains vanilla—try to reach for the real thing. You'll find that pure vanilla extract has much more flavor, and even enhances other flavors in your dish. Try it out and see the difference in these vanilla recipes that are anything but boring.

Related video: What's the Difference Between Vanilla Extract, Imitation Vanilla, and Vanilla Bean Paste? (Provided by My Recipes)

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