Is Vanilla Extract Vegan? All You Need To Know About This Product In [UK] 2023
Vanilla extract is a popular flavoring added to sweet recipes. It has a rich, delicate flavor with a slightly floral aroma. Vanilla extract also comes with multiple health benefits, making it healthier than most people think.
However, people on a vegan diet who like vanilla flavors may be worrying about having to cut their favorite sweet treats out of their lives. Vanilla extract shouldn’t be made with animal-derived ingredients, but some people claim that it is not vegan-friendly.
So let’s find out: Is vanilla extract vegan?
Is Vanilla Extract Vegan-Friendly?
Yes, vanilla extract is vegan-friendly. No animal products are used in the production of natural or synthetic vanilla extract.
Is Vanilla Extract Allowed On A Vegan Diet?
In short, yes. Almost all vanilla extracts are vegan-friendly. Vegans do not eat anything derived from animals, including meat, eggs, and dairy products. Vanilla extract — whether natural or synthetic — does not usually contain these ingredients.
The three main ingredients in natural vanilla extract are vanilla beans, ethanol, and water. All of these fit the criteria of vegan food. While most synthetic vanilla extracts contain additives, none of these ingredients come from animals.
So, you can still enjoy vanilla in your vegan baked goods or smoothies. Rather than just eating plain fruits and veggies in order to get your vitamins and minerals, you can add extra flavor to your desserts and dishes.
So next time you’re craving something sweet and comforting, make a quick chocolate mug cake, oatmeal, or a protein smoothie flavored with vanilla rather than reaching for a vegan meal replacement bar. You always get more nutrients from whole foods. You can even consider a vegan meal delivery service if you don’t have time to cook.
What Is Vanilla Extract?
Vanilla extract is a vanilla flavoring solution made by mashing vanilla pods in a mixture of alcohol and water. Despite being known as a sweet flavoring agent, vanilla extract itself is actually bitter due to the alcohol used in the process of making it.
The main component of vanilla extract is vanillin, which is believed to have antibiotic, anticancer, antioxidant, and neuroprotective effects. With these bioactive properties, vanilla extract has lately been considered a potential new therapeutic treatment for some people.
Vanilla essence is the synthetic version, where vanillin is chemically synthesized rather than derived from vanilla beans.
How Is Vanilla Extract Made?
The vanilla bean comes from the vanilla plant native to Mexico. To make real vanilla extract, crushed vanilla beans are steeped in a mixture of alcohol and water.
The long, scientific answer starts by taking vanilla beans and aging them for three to four months under tropical temperatures and weather conditions.
During this process, beta-glucosidase enzymes hydrolyze the glucovanillin in the vanilla bean, producing vanillin — the main compound responsible for vanilla’s aroma and flavor.
Then, the vanilla beans are chopped and placed in a solution of alcohol and water, where the vanillin can be extracted. The alcohol acts as a solvent, extracting the flavor compounds from the beans.
Natural Vanilla Extract
Natural or pure vanilla extract gets its flavor only from the mashed vanilla beans and the ethanol used in the process of making it. It’s considered desirable over synthetic extract because it has a more robust flavor profile. Plus, there aren’t any additives that could affect the composition or chemical properties of vanillin.
Unfortunately, pure vanilla extract has a more bitter taste than you would expect. This is simply the natural vanilla flavor combined with alcohol. Another downside to making pure vanilla extract is that the process is far more laborious and time-consuming than making synthetic vanillin.
Artificial Vanilla Extract
Due to the high demand for vanilla extracts, those that you’d find in a store are more likely to be made synthetically rather than naturally.
Artificial vanilla extract — otherwise known as imitation vanilla or vanilla essence — is made with synthetic vanillin and additives such as sugar, preservatives, and colorings.
The main purpose of these additives is to give the final product a desirable flavor that closely resembles the natural vanilla flavor. Some culinary experts claim that both natural and artificial vanilla extract are interchangeable in recipes as they end up tasting the same in the end.
The major downside with imitation vanilla is that the additives might interact with the vanillin molecules, weakening its bioactive properties and making it less viable as a therapeutic treatment. Even so, researchers have found that it could still be possible to make artificial vanilla extract while still maintaining vanillin’s natural bioactive properties.
Vanilla Extract Health Benefits
Aside from being commonly used as a flavoring agent, the most notable benefit of vanilla extract is the antibacterial and antimicrobial properties that come from vanillin.
In one study, researchers discovered that vanillin inhibits the growth, viability, and virulence of both gram-positive and gram-negative bacteria. Thus, it can be used to treat infections with bacteria that have become resistant to medications.
Vanilla extract can even be combined with antibiotic drugs to produce synergistic effects against many strains of bacteria.
Animal studies suggest that vanilla extract might have neuroprotective properties that can counter neurotoxicity and protect nerve cells from inflammation. This can help support brain health and might reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease and Huntington’s disease.
There is also some potential for vanilla extract to help regulate the inflammatory response and oxidative stress. However, more human research is needed on these health effects.
What Is The Deal Between Vanilla Extract & Beavers?
There are rumors online that artificial or imitation vanilla extract is made with a non-vegan product called castoreum. This is a strong-smelling compound secreted from a beaver’s castor sac or gland to mark its territory.
Even though it is safe to consume, those on a vegan diet will want to avoid consuming anything containing castoreum. However, castoreum is not a popular flavoring compound and it’s extremely unlikely that you’ll find any beaver-derived ingredients in modern-day vanilla extract.
You would have to anesthetize a beaver and milk its castor glands to get any castoreum, and this is a very complex process at a time when the viability and number of beaver farms have significantly fallen. Even if someone somehow managed to get this castoreum extract, beavers don’t produce enough of it to warrant being included in a vanilla extract.
In short, the idea of vanilla extract coming from beaver butts is largely just a myth. With this myth now busted, vanilla extracts are fully vegan-friendly with no ingredients from animals.
The Bottom Line
In conclusion, yes, vanilla extract is vegan-friendly — whether it’s made from real vanilla beans or synthetic vanillin.
If you’re vegan, using vanilla extract in your baking or cooking recipes should be perfectly fine. None of its ingredients come from any animals, and any claims otherwise are most likely just misinformation, myths, or outdated.
However, even though a cake or pastry is vegan does not make it healthy. Make sure to eat plenty of whole foods and supplement your diet with vegan green powders for extra vegan-friendly nutrition.
Frequently Asked Questions
Vanilla extract is vegan. Contrary to myth, it’s never made with animal ingredients, such as the castoreum of a beaver.
Yes. Despite the possibility of additives being used — which aren’t the most desirable but also not explicitly excluded from the vegan diet — none of its ingredients come from animals.
Vanilla is perfectly fine in a vegan diet. But if you prefer to use something else, you can substitute vanilla with maple syrup or almond extract.
+ 6 sources
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