Looking for vanilla solutions? What you need to know about Extracts vs. Flavors

by | Jun 17, 2021

Vanilla’s association with ‘basic’ or ‘plain’ is undeserved. Most of us have memories that include the uniquely sweet, rich taste of vanilla – going for an extra scoop of vanilla ice cream on a summer day or heading to the pantry to get vanilla extract so Grandma could bake her famous cheesecake. And the history of vanilla is as complex as its flavor. Originally discovered off the coast of Africa in 1793, vanilla cultivation started on the Madagascar, Comoros, Seychelles, and Reunion Islands, known today as the Bourbon Islands.

Fast forward to the 21st century, and the global vanilla market surpassed USD 2.7 billion in 2020. Demand for vanilla is forecast to continue growing with a CAGR of 5.64% from 2021-2026. Vanilla is a leading flavor featured across categories. For example, producers make approximately 425 million gallons of vanilla ice cream annually in the U.S., representing 28% of the total ice cream produced each year!

The love for vanilla makes it a popular flavor and critical ingredient in many applications, from decadent desserts to delicious baked goods. Consumers searching for natural ingredients turn to vanilla because it fits their conscious lifestyles.

The time-intensive process of producing enough vanilla extract to meet the demand for this flavor led to the innovation of alternatives that we consume and use daily. Each vanilla flavor and extract option has nuances and complexities worth exploring to bring out the very best in food and beverage applications.

Folding in the Details about Extract

Remember the tiny bottle of extract in the spice rack at home? Vanilla extract is distinct from vanilla flavor. While both extract and vanilla flavor contain real vanilla beans, vanilla extract must contain a specific unit weight of vanilla beans in requirements clearly outlined by the FDA. Vanilla flavor also has a clear standard of identity with less alcohol (by volume) in the base. And extracts regulations include measurements known as “folds.”

A “fold” is the FDA’s assigned measurement of potency for vanilla extracts. Each gallon of the finished extract must have at least 13.35 ounces of vanilla bean to be considered a pure single-fold (1x) extract of vanilla.

  • The average concentration of pure vanilla extract is a single fold (1x).
  • Double folds (2x) have twice the amount of extractives of vanilla bean but are the same as single folds in water and alcohol.
  • Triple folds (3x), have three times the amount of extractives.

Vanilla concentrations can be as high as 10x or even 20x through dilution of oleoresins.

A multi-fold vanilla extract concentration can deliver desired intensity across several food or beverage applications such as:

  • Confections
  • Desserts
  • Beverages
  • Baked Goods

Keep in mind that high-concentrated distillation can destroy some of the aromatic substances of vanilla flavor that can increase its appeal in specific applications. For example, without the creamy, warm, comforting scent of vanilla, bakery items may become less memorable to customers.

Although the specified number of vanilla folds can add depth to taste in the end-product, they can also add up in cost. The vanilla industry has seen acute shortages of beans driving significant price increases throughout history. Dynamics such as climate change and questionable cultivation practices create volatility in the vanilla market, leading manufacturers to seek more cost-effective, readily available alternatives to vanilla extract.

Vanilla flavors can play a significant role in delivering cost savings while meeting specific application labeling requirements like natural and organic and providing the distinctive vanilla taste consumers crave.

Decoding Vanilla Flavor Types

Various types of vanilla flavor exist to help producers achieve a particular profile and label that will satisfy consumer’s expectations while meeting budgetary constraints. When decoding vanilla flavors, options include: 

  • WONF Vanilla Flavors
    • Natural vanilla flavors with other flavors (WONF) contain vanilla but also pull flavor notes from other natural sources that can provide unique profiles such as:
      • Bourbonnais Vanilla Flavor with cherry or woody undertones
      • Velvet Crème Vanilla Flavor with a boozy note 
  • Natural & Artificial (N&A) Vanilla Flavors
    • N&A flavors use a combination of vanilla and other substances to deliver delicious tastes for specific applications. Examples include:
      • Imperial Type 2x Vanilla Flavor for rich depth in frozen desserts
      • Vanilla Type Flavor with sweet, slightly spicy notes for baked goods

When to use Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Flavor

So which is better? Extract or flavor? The path you choose will reflect your preferences and product development goals. Studies have shown that it can be difficult for consumers to distinguish between authentic vanilla extract and vanilla flavor. Even though the demand for more natural flavors is growing, consumers often cannot taste the difference.

  • The Michigan State University Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition used vanilla samples from FlavorSum to determine whether participants could distinguish between flavors. The study examined perceptions of natural, natural and artificial, and artificial flavors in vanilla ice cream. Although consumers gravitate toward the idea of “all natural” flavors, the study results showed no significant difference in preference. The panelists did not like the natural flavor vanilla ice cream more than the artificial or the N&A flavor.

Since the challenges associated with producing pure extract are likely to continue, it is important to have strategies in place that help you source vanilla for your applications.

Find your solution with FlavorSum Vanilla Extracts

FlavorSum uses a 3-step process for vanilla extracts:

vanilla info graphic english

  1. Vanilla Preparation

Specially selected Vanilla beans are gently chopped into smaller pieces to ensure optimal conditions for our unique dynamic extraction process.

  1. Dynamic Extraction

We load the chopped beans into a meshed basket and place them into a stainless steel

vessel. Then we wash the beans in an alcohol and water solution, which gently extracts all the unique and delicate top-notes for ideal flavor delivery.

  1. Final Filtration

After a specified extraction period reflecting decades of expertise, we filter the vanilla bean extract wash to remove the exhausted bean matter. We place the finished vanilla extract into aging tanks where it will continue to mature taking on a rich, sweet Bourbon profile.

Flavorsum’s vanilla extract options are available in Natural and Organic formulas to meet your labeling requirements while still providing a delicious taste for your customers to enjoy. Our portfolio includes a range of intensities for a variety of applications such as Dairy, Sweet Goods, Confectionery, Bakery, Beverage.

  • Vanilla Extract 1X (Fold)
  • Vanilla Extract 2X (Fold)
  • Vanilla Extract 3X (Fold)

Looking for the right vanilla flavor for your application? Contact the FlavorSum team, and we’ll explore vanilla solutions that help you achieve your product development goals!

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