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Is Vanilla Extract Gluten Free?

VanillaBeanExtractSince vanilla extract is made from alcohol - which is usually made from grain, the question of whether the extract is gluten free routinely comes up.

The alcohols distillation process removes almost all traces of gluten, making it well below the 20ppm which qualifies as being labeled gluten free.

The alcohols distillation process removes almost all traces of gluten, making it safe to consume

Having said that, there are some people who are highly sensitive, and can still react to gluten levels well below the 20ppm. For those people, there are several alcohol brands on the market now that use corn, potato, or sugar cane instead of grains to produce their products. For more information on grain free alcohol read: What Types of Alcoholic Drinks Are Gluten Free?

Why is it so Expensive?

Next to saffron, pure vanilla is the most expensive spice in the world. Vanilla beans are the fruit from an orchid grown in tropical climates like Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti, and are harvested under only optimal natural environmental conditions. Growing the beans is extremely labor intensive as each flower is hand-pollinated and, once the beans are ripe, are then hand-picked.

There are two types of vanilla extract, pure and imitation (including clear varieties). There is also a third – which is labeled vanilla flavoring and is a blend of pure and imitation. But for the purpose of this article, I will include those extracts in the imitation category.

VanillaCultivation_Bouba

Vanilla cultivation, Photo courtesy of Bouba

Imitation vanilla has a strong flavor with a very bitter aftertaste. This is due to the extracts they are really made from –wood pulp or coal! Pure vanilla, which contains the flavor compound vanillin, is smooth and has an intensely robust flavor.

Pure vanilla extract is produced by steeping vanilla beans in an alcohol and water solution for several months. The longer it steeps, the fuller the flavor and less bitter the aftertaste.  The best extracts are left to mature for several years.

Imitation vanilla extract is made from wood pulp or coal tar

To make a cheaper pure vanilla extract, manufacturers can avoid this long maturation by adding a sweetener like corn syrup or sugar. The sweetener works to stabilize the mixture quicker and adds a boost to its aromatic bouquet.

Is Pure Vanilla Extract Worth the Price?

Yes... but if you do a lot of baking and go through a lot of extract, it can start to get very expensive. If this is the case, then only use pure vanilla extract in recipes that are uncooked – like in cold drinks, ice creams, whipping cream, or other cold type desserts - where the bold and rich flavor of the extract can be detected. For baked goods, use a cheaper type of vanilla extract (be it artificial or a blend), since heating will cause some of its alcohol to evaporate - along with some of the vanilla flavor.

An alternative to buying vanilla extract is to make your own. Click here (Homemade Vanilla Extract) to learn how to make it, and if it's worth it.

To save money, use pure extract in uncooked recipes and imitation for baked or hot dishes/drinks

How to Store

Vanilla beans can last up to year if stored in an air-tight container in a cool, dark location. The glass vial they are sold in is the perfect storage container.  They should not be refrigerated as it drys the pods out - you want them to maintain their soft pliable texture.

If you see tiny iridescent crystals form on the pod, like a frost, that is actually a sign of a great quality bean. Those crystals are the vanillin that is oozing out.

Types of Vanilla Beans

Like a fine wine, where the beans are grown lend delicate notes to their flavor.

  • Madagascar - Full-bodied flavor with a hint of tobacco (because these beans have the highest vanillin content, they are used in most commercial extracts)
  • Mexico – Smooth and creamy, with a spicy and woody fragrance
  • Tahiti – Has a subtle floral scent, with a hint of chocolate-cherry flavor, or licorice
  • Bourbon -  Fruity scents of fig, papaya, persimmon and cherries
  • West India - Dark rummy scent, hints of cherries with a subtle woodsy scent
  • Indonesia - Aromas of prunes and cinnamon
  • Tonga - Hints of cherries
  • Papua New Guinea - Subtle notes of chocolate and red wine define this vanilla

 

10 Responses to Is Vanilla Extract Gluten Free?

  1. Mary January 27, 2015 at 9:59 am #

    I just found out I need to be gluten free because of my hashimoto thyroidism and rheumatoid arthiritis because they both are immune diseases. I am finding it to be a bit hard, but I am trying. I love fried dough once in awhile. Can it be done with all these other flours? Not sure where to start to make the dough and if it would rise. Hoping you could let me know. Thanks MARY DEVANEY
    devsled@aol.com

    • Angie Halten (Admin)
      Angie Halten (Admin) January 27, 2015 at 10:46 am #

      Yes it can! Sometimes it takes some trial and error, but that's where we come in. Check out these articles first to help get you started:
      The Secret to Baking Gluten Free Bread & Is There an Gluten-Free All-Purpose Flour. I'm not sure what you mean by fried dough - we have a tasty Mini Doughnut recipe. Start by looking through our Recipes, browsing through all the pictures I'm sure you'll find something that will get your mouth watering!

      • Mary January 27, 2015 at 4:28 pm #

        Like the fried dough you get at fairs

        • Angie Halten (Admin)
          Angie Halten (Admin) January 27, 2015 at 5:05 pm #

          I'll pass that request along to our Test Kitchen - I know they would love to try making some Funnel Cakes! Will let you know once the recipes been perfected!

          • Mary January 28, 2015 at 1:26 pm #

            I use to buy pizza dough and let it rise overnight, then I would pull pieces off and stretch them to be fried in oil. Then I would put butter and cinnamon sugar on it. Not sure if gluten free pizza dough rises?

          • Marla Hingley
            Marla Hingley January 28, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

            Yes it will rise - not as high as with wheat flour, but it will give it all its worth! Check out our pizza crust recipe (just omit the herbs)

  2. Melba January 29, 2015 at 4:53 pm #

    I have Celiac Sprue disease, and absolutely MUST eat GF only, after nearly dying from it. Anything made with wheat is a big no-no, like most mayos or dressings with white vinegar, and many other things I had to learn over the last 20 years. Fortunately now, there are these items in the store \I can purchase safely that are GF, but it's been a long, difficult journey. If I eat something (like white vinegar) unawares, I really suffer.

    Love your recipes though -- even though I can't use anything with wheat in it.

    • Marla Hingley
      Marla Hingley January 29, 2015 at 5:10 pm #

      Well good news is that all our recipes are wheat free, and we just finished creating a new tool to help you customize the recipes you see on our site.
      If you go into the 'My Account' tab, then under 'Do Something', click on 'My Preferences'. If you want to avoid vinegar, check off 'yeast' (since yeast is used in the fermentation process to create vinegar. Then hit save. Now only recipes that we have identified as being yeast-free will appear. That should help narrow down your recipe choices!

  3. Alex Savva March 29, 2015 at 6:10 am #

    Melba, if you are able to find white or red rice vinegar, try that and see how it goes. That is what I have been using for many years. I am also very sensitive to gluten and cross-contamination. The recipes on this site are wonderful, and so varied.
    Thank you Angie, and Marla!

  4. Antonia March 31, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

    Thank You Angie, it is very helpful. Thanks Antonia.

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