The colder months are synonymous with cookies, puddings, fruitcake and other goodies. If you’re making them from scratch, you may reach for vanilla essence often since vanilla is used in ice cream, yogurt, pastries, cookies, tea and coffee, to name just a few foods. Vanilla flavoring, which has been used for centuries and is the most popular of all flavoring extracts, is also used in carbonated beverages and flavored waters. Natural vanilla flavoring is obtained from vanilla bean pods. While more than thirty-three species of vanilla are known, most have no value for flavoring (Gnadinger 1929).


The Many Forms of Vanilla:

Ground Vanilla Beans: Ground vanilla beans are often used as a time-saver for industrial or home baking because they blend easily and dissolve quickly. These are ground from spent vanilla beans and do not have the flavor of whole beans or extracts.

Vanilla Extract: Vanilla extract is made by percolating ethyl alcohol and water through macerated vanilla beans. Most companies use a consistent blend of beans, sometimes from several regions, to create their signature flavor. The extraction process takes about 48 hours after which the extracts mellow in tanks with the beans, for a duration ranging from days to weeks, depending on the processor, before being filtered into a holding tank where the amber-colored liquid extract remains until bottled. Ingredients like sugar, corn syrup, caramel, colors and stabilizers may be added to standardize the extract. By FDA standards of identity, vanilla extract must contain at least 35% alcohol.

Vanilla Oleoresin: This is a semi-solid concentrate obtained by complete removal of the solvent from a vanilla extract. Aqueous isopropanol is frequently used instead of aqueous ethyl alcohol for the extraction step. Owing to unavoidable evaporation losses during the solvent stripping step, Vanilla Oleoresin is inferior in aroma and flavor character compared to vanilla extract.

Natural and Artificial Vanilla Flavoring: Most food manufacturing company’s use the term “Natural and Artificial Vanilla Flavorings”. There might be several ingredients in each complex flavor. Some time the word “WONF” appears beside the flavorings on the flavor labels. WONF means “with other natural flavorings”. Alcohol is usually used as a solvent and carrier.

Vanilla Powder: The Vanilla Oleoresin, extract, or flavoring can be made into a powder by spray drying or pan drying it into a sweet or semi-sweet carrier powder. Alcohol, if present in the liquid form, is evaporated to an amount much below the 0.5% level.

Vanillin and Ethyl Vanillin: Vanillin, the crystalline component of vanilla, was first isolated from vanilla pods by Gobley in 1858. By 1874 it had been obtained from glycosides of pine tree sap, temporarily causing an economic depression in the natural vanilla industry (Lancashire, 2004). Vanillin, a pleasant smelling aromatic compound, is used widely as a flavoring additive in beverages, cooking, and as an aromatic additive for candles, incense, potpourri, fragrances, perfumes, and air fresheners. Before using it in a food product or mixing with natural vanilla to make natural and artificial vanilla flavoring, alcohol may be used as solvent and a carrier. It is often obtained as a byproduct of the pulp and paper industry by the oxidative breakdown of lignin. Vanillin and Ethyl Vanillin are also prepared by synthesis (Taber, 2002). Ethyl Vanillin is a flavoring agent that is a synthetic vanilla flavor with approximately three and one-half times the flavoring power of vanillin.

Vanilla extract, oleoresin, powder, flavors, vanillin and ethyl vanillin are food ingredients and not food products. They are never eaten or consumed in their pure form. Alcohol is used to make the ingredient soluble and easy to use, hence all such flavors are considered permissible in the making of halal products.