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Natural vanilla flavouring, vanilla sugar, maple syrup, beans... What to replace vanilla extract with?

You are in the middle of preparing a recipe and you realize in the middle of the statement that you are missing vanilla extract? Don't panic, here's what you can use instead!

In many recipes for cakes, creams and cookies, there is an ingredient with an enigmatic name: vanilla extract - often referred to as "liquid. Vanilla extract is a solution obtained by macerating vanilla beans in a mixture of alcohol and water. Well, in theory... Indeed, many vanilla extracts on the market are made from natural or even artificial flavors. We can then find on the labels ingredients such as coloring agents, preservatives, thickeners or food texturizers like Propylene Glycol. Why so much superfluous in these preparations? Because vanilla is expensive: according to the magazine UFC que choisir, the price of this spice, which comes mainly from the island of Madagascar, "will be around 400 dollars per ton" in 2020.

Homemade liquid vanilla extract

First solution to do without commercial vanilla extract: prepare it yourself. Indeed, the preparation is absolutely simple, you just have to be patient, because a few months are necessary for an optimal result. For that, it will be advisable to place some vanilla pods in a bottle of rum, or, if you prefer to realize it without alcohol, to work them in a syrup. You will then just have to let the liquid soak up the power of the pods.

Opt for natural vanilla flavoring

The European Commission defines flavourings as "products not intended to be consumed as such, which are added to foodstuffs to give them an odour and/or taste, or to modify them". There are four main families of flavors used in the food industry: natural flavors, synthetic flavors, processing flavors and smoke flavors. In the case of vanilla, both natural and synthetic flavors are available on the market. Natural flavors come from an animal or vegetable raw material - in this case vegetable - while synthetic flavors are chemically identical to natural substances. At Nerolian, two natural vanilla flavors are offered for sale: an organic, alcohol-free natural vanilla flavor and a natural vanilla flavor. The first is a natural food flavoring of vegetable origin, obtained by extraction, concentration, distillation, roasting or fermentation, in accordance with European legislation. It contains sugar syrup, natural vanilla flavor, caramel (sugar and water). Nerolian natural vanilla flavor is made from real vanilla beans.

Beware of the label!

However, this is not the case for all natural flavors found in the market. In an article published in 2013, the magazine UFC que choisir explains that "natural flavors are not always extracted from the source they taste like. Thus, strawberry flavor can be created by biotechnological means (microbial or enzymatic fermentation) from wood chips, or vanillin (a major constituent of vanilla) can be produced from ferulic acid from rice bran." These are molecules extracted from a natural raw material other than vanilla. The magazine's researchers were able to isolate "170 different aromatic molecules in a vanilla bean extract". To be sure that you are buying a product made from pure vanilla, it is imperative that the label says "natural vanilla flavor". In this case, it means that the flavouring has been prepared exclusively or from a minimum of 95% vanilla (the remaining 5% comes from other molecules).

Several substitutes

If you run out of vanilla extract and don't have any natural vanilla flavoring on hand, there are other alternatives: why not add a bag of vanilla sugar (homemade is even better) to your preparation? Another option: add a dash of maple syrup to your recipe. This specialty, which comes straight from Quebec, adds a delicate touch of amber and caramel to your preparations. Finally, a tastier - but also much more expensive - solution would be to simply incorporate the seeds of a vanilla bean into your batter.