Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Essence: What’s the Difference?

Delicately sweet, spicy, yet fruity – vanilla is a longstanding favorite in milkshakes, ice cream, chocolates, custard, cakes and bakes, coffees, perfume, and aromatherapy.
But where does it come from, and what’s the difference between vanilla extract and essence?
What Is Vanilla?
While a seemingly common spice, vanilla is derived from an exotic flat-leaved orchid; labor-intensive to produce as it requires manual pollination, with three-quarters of the global crop produced in Madagascar and Indonesia. Each flower needs pollination within 12 hours of opening, and each fruit ripens in its own time, warranting ongoing daily harvesting.
This production intensity makes natural vanilla extract the second most expensive spice after saffron, resulting in around 95% of vanilla-based products being artificially flavored with vanillin from lignin, a natural wood polymer1.
What Is Vanilla Extract?
Vanilla extract is a complex combination of hundreds of compounds, including vanillin, methyl cinnamate, acetaldehyde, isobutyric acid, furfural, acetic acid, eugenol, 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, and hexanoic acid.
After harvesting, pod tissue development is stopped, and the pods are sweated (fermented) and dried. The pods are then conditioned (cured) by storage in closed boxes for up to six months, allowing the intense, fruity, smoky, and resinous flavor and fragrance to develop.
Pods are ground up to expose the oil-rich seeds, then soaked in a water and ethyl alcohol solution to release the alcohol-soluble compounds and extract the flavor and aroma into the alcohol.
The entire process requires up to 14 months, with products available whole, in a powder, extract, and sugar. Unlike an essence, vanilla extracts offer a long shelf-life, with the flavor intensifying over time.
What Is Vanilla Essence?
In contrast to pure vanilla extract, and while chemically identical to the original, vanilla essence is a more processed product created by synthesizing a vanillin molecule from wood fibers. As a result, it’s known as an imitation vanilla flavor.
It is usually produced using ethanol, water, emulsifiers, propylene glycol, and various chemical-based colors and flavors.
Vanilla Extract vs. Vanilla Essence: Which Is Preferable?
Replacing an extract with an essence won’t change the structure of your final product, although you’ll require more of the latter – typically double – for the same result.
However, choosing essence over extract will impact your flavor profile and quality.
Due to its purer sourcing and over 200 flavor and aroma compounds, vanilla extract is more intense and ideal for more layered flavor profiles. In addition, use it in slightly or unheated products such as ice creams, custards, puddings, and icings, as heat can damage volatile vanillin flavor compounds.
In contrast, for highly heated products and those requiring a subtle flavor, such as when enhancing a primary flavor, using an essence may be more cost-effective with negligible impact on outcomes.
However, for manufacturers, increasing consumer demand for more healthful, natural product ingredients warrants prioritizing pure vanilla extract for a cleaner label – more expensive yet yielding significant value for money and long-term gains.
Sourcing pure and natural vanilla means relying on a reputable ingredients producer, such as Advanced Biotech.
Why Trust Advanced Biotech for Authentic Vanilla Extract?
Advanced Biotech produces a broad range of naturally sourced, pure, plant-based, and EU-certified vanilla products, safely extracted using greener, state-of-the-art, industry-approved technologies, and techniques.
Please contact us for more information.