VANILLA often has a bad reputation for being bland, but the flavor not only adds depth to dessert dishes, it also has a long history of origins and uses.
There has been a lot of misinformation about where it came from — or What It’s from the last few years, but we’re about to unwrap it all for you.
Where does vanilla flavor come from?
Vanilla from the pod is very expensive.
Today, most vanilla flavorings found in the supermarket are synthetic, meaning they are derived from vanillin – an organic compound found in vanilla beans.
Artificial vanillin is made from either guaiacol — an aromatic oil derived from guaiac oil or wood creosote — or from lignin found in the bark.
The vast majority of food and beverage products hitting the shelves today use artificial flavors to get that sweet vanilla flavor.
There is a brown, sticky slime called castoreum that smells strongly of vanilla and was used in food in the early 20th century.
However, today castoreum is almost never used in food except in special (and expensive) cases, and is instead found in some upscale perfumes.
Food chemists can “milk” castoreum from stunned beavers, and while it’s not the most desirable flavor source, it’s considered “generally safe for consumption” by the US Food and Drug Administration.
The so-called “Biberklebrüh” was used decades ago to flavor homemade ice cream, baked goods, chewing gum and sweets.
When did vanilla flavor go viral on TikTok?
TikTok user @Sloowmoee threw the internet into a frenzy in April 2022 after starting a viral trend.
In a 15-second video posted to his 6.1 million followers, the TikTok creator asked people to film their reactions before and after Googling “Where does vanilla flavor come from?”.
He then takes a sip of vanilla latte before Googling the question, looking horrified, and screeching, “No more vanilla!”
Sloowmoee’s video has been clicked millions of times.
In response to his post, other TikTok users have uploaded videos showing their reactions to discovering the aroma’s apparent origin.
This misinformation spread quickly, although some users also stitched the video together to stop the viral trend of spreading false information.
Did I eat beaver slime?
Although castoreum can be used as an ingredient in food and drink, this is extremely rare due to the cost and time involved in milking.
It’s safe to assume that every ice cream or vanilla latte you’ve consumed contains ingredients that are nowhere near getting up a beaver’s butt.
The few products that contain castoreum are usually made by luxury brands—not something you get at the local supermarket.
For example, Eau De Musc (“Water of Musk”) was a limited-edition cacao whiskey launched in 2018 by US alcohol maker Tamworth Distilling.
It came in a small vintage-style 200ml perfume bottle and sold for a staggering $65 (£50) each.
Chanel Antaeus is a fragrance by – you guessed it – Chanel that contains castoreum. That’ll set you back a whopping $114 / £78 per bottle.
Is vanilla flavoring the same as vanilla essence?
Although both produce the well-known vanilla taste, vanilla essence differs from vanilla aroma.
To create vanilla flavor, a mixture of corn syrup, synthetic vanillin, and lignin is made.
In general, imitation vanilla has a weaker flavor and is therefore best suited for use in baked goods.
The extract can be made by soaking vanilla beans in a mixture of water and ethyl alcohol—at home, vodka or bourbon will do.
You can use it to make homemade vanilla ice cream or add flavor to other foods.
Split vanilla beans are added to the alcohol and extracted cold or hot.
Finally, you can also buy vanilla essence, which again has a different strength but still has the classic vanilla flavor.
This is typically done using water, ethanol, propylene glycol, emulsifiers, and chemically manufactured flavors and colors.
Again, you can use it in various foods to add that sweet but not overpowering flavor.
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