Vanilla extract, which is the most widely used flavoring agent in many baked products and dessert items, is a solution containing the compound vanillin. It is extracted from vanilla beans. To call this extract pure vanilla extract solution, it requires to contain a minimum of 35% alcohol and 13.35 ounces of vanilla bean per gallon. There are many varieties of vanilla beans which are used to make the extract and they are collected from all over the world. Varieties like the Tahitian, Indonesian, Mexican, and Bourbon vanilla are the best ones are used for this purpose.
It is mostly a blend of natural and artificial flavors with some alcohol content. Vanilla beans being the main ingredient, the extract is known for vanilla flavor. The preparation and the final product of this extract depend on the various brands, location, and the formulation of the ingredients, so every product has a different taste.
The first and the most important component of this extract are the vanilla beans, which consists of more than 50% of the formulation. The strong vanilla flavor is extracted from both the thin pods from which the beans are retrieved or the beans themselves. There are many varieties of these beans produced in all parts of the world, out of which the most popular one is the Madagascar bean. These beans are of very rich extract content and have a strong flavor, thus are preferred.
When vanilla extract is not made naturally, by using the vanilla beans, the compound that gives a similar flavor is called vanillin. It is also known as ethyl vanillin and is a synthetic replacement for these artificial preparations. It does not have an authentic vanilla bean taste or flavor to it, but for a commercial product is good enough as well.
Water and Alcohol
Once the extract is removed from the beans, it has to be diluted and processed. Thus, water is what gives it the liquid consistency and it aids for its even distribution throughout the dish. The alcohol used in making the extract taste less bitter and more edible is vodka. You could use some other alcohol if you are making the extract at home, but commercially vodka is used. The vanilla extract alcohol content and water content also vary with respect to recipes.
Sugar and Artificial Color
The vanilla extract and alcohol will definitely give the preparation a very bitter taste, thus you have to add sugar, to sweeten it. It is also a very important ingredient for infusing the vanilla into alcohol and water. Whether the preparation is natural or artificial, sugar is needed for better dissolution of all the ingredients. It also serves as a balance between the content of the extract and the contents of the dishes. The color of this product also should be presentable and thus, an artificial caramel color is often used in very tiny amounts.
Vanilla extract can be made at home, as the recipe and instructions are easy to follow. You can add a drop of this extract in the batter that you use for French toast, and the dish gets a rich and delightful flavor.