Vanilla, the flavor that we associate with the aroma of freshly baked cookies and cakes, the warmth of a family gathering or a festival, is one of the universally loved ones, along with chocolate. Most people would vouch for the notion that there is no flavor in the world that comes close to vanilla. Its universal appeal is evident in the variety of dishes that use vanilla for flavoring- desserts, milkshakes, and even savory dishes that serve as the main course in many cuisines.
An essential ingredient in most baked goods, vanilla is one of the freshest flavors that can be used in a dish. It adds depth and flavor to cakes and is used by many to enhance the flavor of chocolate. Although it is the second most expensive spice in the world, behind only saffron, it is widely used.
Vanilla can be infused into a dish by using either vanilla extract or vanilla essence. Vanilla extract and vanilla essence are often considered to be the same. The reality is otherwise. Vanilla extract and vanilla essence are markedly different ingredients. Using either in place of the other is a huge mistake that a baker can commit, and it will cause a significant difference in the end product, maybe even hampering the taste and texture to a large extent.
Although they may sound the same, there are differences in the ways the two can be used, the flavor they create, and particularly in their nutritional value. They are produced in two very distinct ways, and one is more naturally occurring than the other.
How is a vanilla extract made?
The flavor of vanilla comes from vanillin, which is a compound that is found in vanilla beans. Vanilla beans are pod-shaped fruits that grow on the climbing orchid that is vanilla.
There are a few ways in which vanilla extract can be made. The two most widely used ones are the alcohol method and the invert sugar one. Vanilla extract is produced by soaking the vanilla bean in a solution of water and either ethyl alcohol or invert sugar. Another method is to soak vanilla pods in glycerine.
The extraction of vanilla using ethyl alcohol is a process that is used by many companies and is also touted as a DIY method to produce the vanilla extract. Vanilla pods are immersed in ethyl alcohol for a duration of eight to ten weeks, for the extraction to be complete.
The more organic and natural process that can be certified as vegetarian and halal is the invert sugar method. A mixture of fructose and glucose is known as invert sugar. In this method of extraction, the vanilla pods are cut, and a concentrate is obtained.
This concentrate is then mixed with invert sugar in a certain ratio, depending on the concentration required. Most bakers prefer double- or two-fold vanilla extract because of how potent it is. This is also preferred because the consistency is ideal for folding into the cake batter.
Goodness Vanilla uses the invert sugar production method hence the vanilla extract stays free of alcohol. The production process uses only natural ingredients. This gives vanilla extract the most natural flavor of vanilla that can be achieved. There is some sugar added to the mix, but being a small amount, it does not do anything to alter the nutritional value of the product significantly.
Going by the method in which vanilla extract is produced, most of the extracts available in the market are free of any artificial product. It also gives the pure taste of vanilla. This comes at a price though; vanilla extracts are more expensive than vanilla essence.
Vanilla extract is a high-quality ingredient that can be used in a variety of recipes, and most chefs swear by it. It can be used in cakes, cookies, or pastry, and any recipe where the flavor of vanilla has to be highlighted.
How is vanilla essence made?
Vanilla essence, owing to being cost-effective, is used by large-scale businesses and many baking units in the bulk production of cakes and other desserts. This is not the same as natural vanilla extract and is a synthetic product. There is no vanilla bean used in making vanilla essence. Other products are combined to bring out a flavor that has a resemblance to the taste of real vanilla.
Towards the end of the 19th century, scientists figured out how to derive vanillin - the dominant compound which gives vanilla its distinct aroma - from less expensive sources.
Some of these sources are clove oil, which gives a chemical known as eugenol, lignin from particular plants, wood pulp, and even cow dung. At present, we get about 85 percent of vanillin from guaiacol, which is synthesized from petrochemicals. This isn’t something many of us realize, because labeling can be confusing.
However, vanilla essence is not obtained only from petrochemicals. We can also use using coal, certain tree bark, and yeast. Vanilla essence uses this artificial vanillin with flavorings and colorants to imitate the flavor of vanilla and it is called imitation vanilla. By virtue of this production process, vanilla essence is a completely artificial product and does not have either the nutritional value or the pure taste of natural vanilla.
Vanilla essence is comparatively cheaper than vanilla extract, and hence makes it an affordable and viable option to those baking in larger quantities. Since it has a less natural flavor, it is advisable to not use vanilla essence in a recipe that has vanilla as one of the key ingredients. If used in a large cake or a big batch of cookies that the recipe mentions a dash of vanilla, the inferior flavor of vanilla essence may not be noticed.
The key difference between vanilla extract and vanilla essence
Although terminology for either may depend from country to country, most manufacturers label them as extract and essence and recipes will also mention if either has to be used.
As discussed in the section about the ways in which vanilla extract and vanilla essence are produced, it is relatively simple to figure out that the key difference between the two is that vanilla extract is natural while vanilla essence is artificial.
Can I use extract instead of the essence?
Though vanilla extract and vanilla essence may be similar in taste, there are some points to be considered when substituting one for the other.
Vanilla extract, by virtue of it being the more natural of the two, has a significantly stronger flavor as compared to essence. If a recipe calls for essence and only vanilla extract is available, only a lesser amount of extract than the one specified in the recipe may be used. This is to make sure that the vanilla flavor does not overpower the taste of the other ingredients.
On the other hand, if a recipe calls for vanilla extract and if it is to be substituted with essence, more vanilla essence than the amount specified in the recipe has to be used to achieve the same flavor.
Remember that vanilla essence and extract cannot be used interchangeably, and you can check online for an exact measure of how much extract to substitute in the place of essence or vice versa.
Generally, a teaspoon of extract equals about a teaspoon and half or two teaspoons of the essence, depending on the brand. However, it goes without saying that the most fool-proof method to get your recipe right is to use the appropriate ingredient.