I love vanilla. Especially the real kind made with vanilla beans. The imitation vanillas have a strong flavor with a bitter aftertaste. Real vanilla is smooth, robust, and absolutely perfect. I’ve even made my own vanilla extract before using vanilla beans and bourbon.
Imagine my surprise when one of my readers wrote to me asking me to decode a store-brand “100% Pure Vanilla Extract” label that contained [[DRAMATIC PAUSE]] corn syrup as an ingredient. First, I wanted to see how it was legally possible for a so-called “pure” extract to contain corn syrup. Then, I wanted to see which other brands of “pure” extract on my grocery store shelf contained other ingredients like corn syrup or sugar.
That’s how I found this week’s product: McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract.
Here’s what the manufacturer claims:
“McCormick Pure Vanilla derives its rich subtle flavor from the finest quality imported Vanilla Beans. A teaspoon of Pure Vanilla is a wonderful way to enhance the flavor of many foods. Vanilla is so versatile; it is one of the world’s most loved and tantalizing flavors.”
McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract: Ingredients
- Vanilla bean extractives in water,
- alcohol (35%),
- and corn syrup.
McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract: DECODED
First, it’s important to understand how true vanilla extract is made. To make it yourself, you only need two things: bourbon and vanilla beans. You cover the beans with the alcohol and let it sit for a few weeks. Then, you remove the beans. PRESTO: homemade pure vanilla extract!
With that in mind, the first two ingredients are expected: vanilla bean extractives in water, and alcohol (35%). We can get picky about the quality of extract that can be made from “extractives in water” rather than fresh, whole premium beans. But, all-in-all, the “extractives in water” are still real food.
No, what gives me pause is also what gives you pause: corn syrup.
How can a product labeled “pure” extract also contain an additive like corn syrup? Good question!
Turns out, the FDA labeling rules for what constitute a “pure” extract are simple. According to the FDA, the label “pure” means that the vanilla flavor comes only from the extractives of the vanilla bean. In other words, the vanilla flavor is not artificially created using wood pulp or beaver glands. Also, to be called “pure vanilla extract,” the FDA requires the product to have been made from at least 35% alcohol and 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon. More alcohol is fine, and often results in a much richer flavor. But it can be no less than 35% alcohol.
So, now that we know that “pure” doesn’t refer to the final product, but rather the vanilla flavor, we can ask why companies add corn syrup or sugar.
Once again, the answer is simple. It makes it taste better! Vanilla extract is the sort of thing that needs to mature, much like a fine whiskey. So, even after it’s made and bottled, it’s best if it sits for a couple of years to stabilize. The extra maturation helps the flavor become more full and less bitter. If a manufacturer wants to ship out product without that maturation process, they add a sweetener like corn syrup or sugar. The sweetener helps it stabilize more quickly in addition to rounding out the flavor so it’s robust without being bitter.
So, what lessons can you learn here?
Even in the world of “100% Pure” extracts, you need to read labels so that you’re not getting more than what you bargained for.
Here’s another interesting bit: you can’t count on the same brand label to always have the same ingredients. Guess how I know this?
I’ve got two bottles of McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract in front of me. Both have identical labels and packaging. Only one has corn syrup. The other has 41% alcohol and no corn syrup or other additives.
McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract: THE VERDICT
It’s a mixed bag! If the ingredients label shows corn syrup:
If the ingredients label shows only vanilla beans and alcohol:
So, what should you use instead?
Of course your first option should be to make your own homemade extract. It’s so easy and the flavor is out of this world. Plus, you can use premium quality organic whole vanilla beans and have a clean conscience while also being ridiculously thrifty. (That’s because making your own, even with expensive beans and liquor, is far cheaper than buying the real stuff at a grocery store.)
(Where to find organic whole vanilla beans.)
If you want a good store bought brand, I’ve enjoyed Simply Organic Pure Vanilla Extract before. It’s completely organic and contains no additives or sweeteners. It’s just vanilla beans and alcohol.
Want Your Labels Decoded?
In this series on Decoding Labels, I’m highlighting deceptive labeling practices, hidden ingredients, and more! If you’ve got a particular label pet-peeve you’d like me to share, please feel free to email me with your idea. It may just turn into a blog post!
Wow! Thanks for this insight. I’ve been on the fence about making my own & I think this just helped me decide. I was similarly shocked when my S-I-L informed me that Club Stores (similar to Costco, BJs, Sams, etc…) sell “100% Pure Maple Syrup” so cheap because they’re allowed to cut it with corn syrup. I couldn’t understand how that’s allowed but now I’m thinking it’s because the maple flavor is 100%. So disgusting.
I just read the same about honey. HFCS is allowed to be called “pure” and if it’s 51% honey it can be called
100% pure honey. Crazy.
Julia Harmon says
So, how much vanilla does the average person add to his or her food? Let’s estimate one teaspoon for 2 dozen cookies. This means each cookie has little over 4% of one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Now let’s say the composition of the vanilla extract is about 41% alcohol, 51% vanilla bean extract and 8% corn syrup. That means that in one cookie, you might have 0.3% of one teaspoon of corn syrup. No sane human being should be afraid of consuming that amount of corn syrup. In your post, you mentioned that the company adds corn syrup to enhance flavor. In fact, this is correct. It acts as a flavor carrier that might be added in very small amounts in order to get the product out to the consumer in a timely manner. There is nothing harmful about its consumption. Also, with the small amount they add, it is highly unlikely that you are getting cheated financially. You should be more concerned about the simple sugars and saturated fats that you are getting from consuming the cookie made with vanilla flavoring.
Deanna McCormack says
You must work for Monsanto. If you think it is not dangerous to consume small amounts of corn syrup, that may or may not be valid. Ask your gut microbiome what they think… But more importantly, there is no shortage of corn syrup or other GMO corn derivatives in the western diet, so it is ridiculous to think that you will only be consuming .3% of one tsp. added up over the course of the day, GMO corn derivatives make up a large portion of the average unsuspecting persons diet and is unequivocally the leading cause of type II diabetes, and most other chronic inflammatory diseases.
When you or your child becomes sick because of consuming these nasty chemicals that our FDA allows Big Food to put on our shelves and call food, maybe you will think twice about supporting it!
Tara @ Unsophisticook says
Just wanted to say that I love these “decoded” posts that you do! Would you be willing to share your method for making vanilla extract? I have some organic vanilla beans that I purchased from Vitacost.com sitting in my cabinet, and I’m dying to try this now.
I should put a post up on that. It’s really simple, though. I use about 2-3 vanilla beans per cup of alcohol (I prefer vodka or bourbon, but I’ve even enjoyed rum), cover it, and let it sit for anywhere from 3 weeks to a couple months in a cool, dark place. When it tastes like vanilla extract, I remove the beans. Easy.
Just a thought as I haven’t tried it, but maybe go to a liquor store and get a pint of grain alcohol or ‘EverClear’ or what ever brand they carry. I don’t thing regular stores carry it, so in the Las Vegas area one goes to one of those huge liquor stores as they carry pretty much anything you can think of. Be sure and explain to whomever waits on you that your looking for just grain or ethyl alcohol. This is the stuff the kids used to sneak into a school party and dump into the punch bowl. Anyway I just thought this might be better to use as it won’t leave any after taste in your ‘pure vanilla’ homemade extract. I don’t care for the taste of bourbon in my food.
Nancy Lee says
Homemade Vanilla Extract
1/5 vodka (I buy locally made organic – if you’re gonna make your own ANYTHING, go the distance, right?!?)(I notice that some people use bourbon, but I can’t get locally made bourbon, so I use what is available locally; its a personal thing.)
4 organic, fair trade vanilla beans
Immerse the beans in the vodka, seal the bottle and wait about 3 weeks. Than decant into 4 pretty recycled bottles, seal them well and let them “age” for several months. Give away 3 bottles for Christmas presents, keep one for yourself!
Note: Aging isn’t necessary, but it does improve the strength of the flavor.
just an FYI, some bourbons are also no longer 100% pure. Many distilleries are claiming that most of the corn (the component of bourbon) is GMO. Last year, 88 percent of all corn grown in the United States was genetically modified, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This means it’s getting harder for companies to find non-GMO corn -including bourbon makers. Four Roses is one of the few using non-GMO corn however the cost is a bit prohibitive if you want to make homemade vanilla. Just wanted to put that out there as well.
I notice you don’t have a good source for vanilla. I would suggest checking out http://www.saffron.com. They have Really excellent prices on both saffron and vanilla. Organic vanilla beans a full pound with is over 100 beans is around 60.00. Which is WAY cheaper than the 2 little beans you can get at store for 13.00. Regular non organic beans run around 20.00 a pound. Their beans are really high quality they are pliable and filled with oil.
I gave up on most store bought things. I have weird food sensitivities that make it almost impossible for me to buy any pre-packaged foods. I have found some great sources of organic products. I couldn’t afford to eat if I hadn’t given the prices of organics these days.
I don’t know what you’re talking about. I’ve got a couple of excellent sources for vanilla listed! (I sometimes wish my advertisers would make their websites more navigable so that you could actually find all their wonderful goodies. Oh well.)
Sorry to be dense, but I clicked through to your resource page and I don’t see anything about vanilla beans.
A couple of my sponsors sell herbs & spices, including whole vanilla beans. So, you’ll want to click through one of the links for herbs & spices, then once you’re at their site do a search for vanilla beans. (I know it’s convoluted. That’s what I meant about wishing their sites were more navigable since often their broad categories don’t seem to fit what you’re looking for.)
I get my Madagascar Vanilla Beans from eBay. I can get 20 beans WITH shipping for under $15! Just research.
when I read this, I grabbed my bottle of McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract and looked at its ingredient label: Vanilla bean extract in water, and alcohol (41%). — no corn syrup —
I also got my bottle at Sam’s, so maybe they make different versions for different places.
Jessica B. says
I got my bottle from Amazon.com and it doesn’t list corn syrup either. /shrug
I checked mine too, Rachael, and it says the same thing yours does. I also got mine at Sam’s Club–very recently.
B Lam says
Whilst you may be able to extract the vanillin from vanilla beans using bourbon, it seems a bit of a waste – bourbon vanilla has nothing to do with bourbon as the alcohol source. Any form of ethanol will do.
Organic is not an indication of quality – only source and processing. Believe me I’ve tasted some awful over-priced vanillas hiding behind an ‘organic’ label.
Well, I’ve made it before with vodka and also rum. Really any kind of hard liquor will do. I like the vodka or bourbon best.
We learned about this a few months back when my MIL was watching my son. He is on the GAPS Diet, and so she won’t give him anything without my approval first. When she asked if she could use vanilla, I said sure, it’s only vanilla beans in alcohol (silly me, I make my own). She read the label on her McCormick bottle, saw corn syrup (major GAPS no-no), and I was stunned! She was very upset about it because she didn’t remember corn syrup ever being in it in all her years of baking and was close to giving it to my son. Just another reminder to always check labels, even for foods we previously gave the okay.
Jessica B. says
How wonderful for you that your MIL is so attentive to and supportive of your desires to feed your son well! That’s great. 🙂
you have an amazing MIL. Mine laughs when I started a gf/cf diet to help my son with the symptoms of his autism. I refuse to visit with her any longer because of the difficulty she makes my life in countering the road we chose to help my son and we are seeing positive changes not only in adjusting his diet, but in all six of us in my family!
With a peanut allergy in the family too, we just received a family Easter basket filled with treats containing peanuts, soy, gluten and casein! OH, and little flash lights made in China…that is a different gripe. Hang onto that MIL!
Our Small Hours says
Tricky, tricky! I’ve got to make my own vanilla extract. It’s been on the to-do list in the back of my mind.
I would love a post on the new juice that Starbucks is carrying called “Evolution.” It boasts that it’s never been heated (which makes you think you’re drinking fresh, raw fruit and vegetable juice, but it’s been high-pressure pasteurized). Another good reason to read labels and avoid the marketing catch phrases.
Our Small Hours says
Just checked my pint of McCormick vanilla that I bought from Sam’s and it says: Vanilla bean extractives in water and alcohol (41%).
It’s still not top quality, home-made stuff, but at least this bottle didn’t have corn syrup.
Something I’ve been curious about is how bad for you is corn syrup? I know that HFCS is quite awful but in the spectrum between good and bad where does plain old corn syrup live?
Here’s my test: If you were a homesteader living 100 years ago, would you have been able to make the sweetener in your kitchen?
Maple Syrup? Yes. You could tap a tree and boil that sap.
Sorghum Syrup? Yes.
You get the idea.
With corn syrup, the answer is no. So, it’s not really natural. It’s an industrial sweetener, only made possible by the advent of industrial food processing technology. Health-wise, it’s questionable. The jury’s out on ALL industrial food (since it’s so new to the human scene), but I think we can make an educated guess based on the noticeable decline in health found when traditional food cultures start eating modern foods laden with sweeteners, refined flours, and refined vegetable oils. I feel a lot more comfortable sticking to traditional foods.
For more on the natural sweeteners I use, read: https://www.foodrenegade.com/my-natural-sweeteners-of-choice/
Karen Joy says
I noticed that about McCormick vanilla around Christmas, when I ran out and needed to pick up more vanilla quickly at the grocery store (I usually get mine at Costco). I shelved it when I saw that it contained corn syrup.
I got a lovely 4 oz bottle of homemade vanilla from a friend for Christmas. She made it with vodka. It smells so wonderful!! She told me that if I’m having a really rough day, I can just pour myself a shot. 😀 I open the bottle and sniff it sometimes, as it just smells heavenly!
For the curious, the pints of Kirkland vanilla extract from Costco contain Vanilla bean extractives in water; alcohol (35%); and sugar.
I really appreciate your explanation of why food producers add sugar or corn syrup. I had never understood why that was done.
The only bad thing about adding the sugar or corn syrup, is that it is Almost Always GMO sugar, unless they specify that it is Cane or another type of sugar. Same with the corn syrup, probably GMO as well.
My other big concern is what about the alcohol being from GMO corn?? Anyone know what the organic ones use, or should we look for the alcohol-free ones?
im confused because mccormick’s website does not list corn syrup as an ingredient and neither does my bottle in my pantry- i’ve seen others post this same thing…so any clarity on this?
Well, like I wrote in the post, I’ve got two *identically packaged* bottles of this stuff and one has corn syrup and 35% alcohol and the other has no corn syrup and 41% alcohol!
I wrote to them to ask them about it, but I haven’t heard back from them yet.
J R says
kristen, this happened with other products in this series also (i think the bouillon and maybe the mayonnaise?). so, it seems that it is much easier for companies to change their product formulas than we’ve been told. whenever consumers or gov’t want changes the companies whine about how the changes will affect their product (more like profit).
To my knowledge, this is actually the first time this happened. With the bouillon, it was everyone comparing their different varieties (organic vs. non, beef vs. chicken, veggie vs. low-sodium). BTB has 20+ varieties of the product, and I was only critiquing the original chicken (non-organic). And with the mayo, their label specifically said “and/or” regarding the first couple of oils used, making it clear that they frequently used whichever oils or blend of oils was cheapest.
This is the first time that a product with absolutely identical packaging had different ingredients listed.
J R says
apparently, it also affects your credibility (at least in some people’s view). which only benefits the companies. they have people wondering if articles of this type are truthful.
Well, if it affects credibility, all they have to do is see the equal number of comments here from readers who HAVE found corn syrup in their “pure” vanilla extract. Or check out the Amazon listing I linked to — it also shows corn syrup as an ingredient.
The goal here is to get people to read labels, even of familiar products which they’ve been buying for years. You never know what can change!
The same thing happened to me. I have 2 identical packages of McKormick Vanilla and one (which I just bought) contains corn syrup. I was double checking to see if it was gluten free and was shocked to see corn syrup listed
Adrienne @ Whole New Mom says
Very interesting. This is what I’ve been finding in my hunt for the best essential oils company. Pure Therapeutic Grade doesn’t necessarily mean anything. There can be TONS of additives in there. Sigh. I’m having a rough time getting to the bottom of this.
I’m definitely making my own. I bought some from Whole Foods and checked my label. No corn syrup, but added sugar and water. So disappointing. Thank you for your website. I have it bookmarked and check it often.
Thank you for this article. I had NO idea my favorite vanilla (from Penzey’s Spices) had sugar in it! Or why anyone would add sugar in the first place. That was quite an eye-opener. I will go back to Singing Dog (www.singingdogvanilla.com), made with whole organic vanilla beans – or perhaps make my own! The rum variety sounds heavenly.
I’ve enjoyed Singing Dog Vanilla in the past! Thanks for the reminder. I used to buy whole vanilla beans from them.
I was just wondering, if an ingredient is less then a certain weight or total mass of the product are they (companies) allowed to omit it?
I live in Australia (I know the laws are different) but the colouring they use for cheese is below a certain amount of the total product so they dont need to stick it on the label (and I know naturally made cheese isnt THAT yellow)
Thought you may want to consider it, see if it is the same under your laws 🙂
Ingredients: Pasteurised Milk, Salt, Cultures, Enzyme (Rennet).
No Artificial Colours or Flavours.
Just an example, it doesnt tell you what makes the colour, only that no artificial colours are added (and just because the colour has come from a natural source doesnt mean that they havent over processed the colour out of the natural source before adding it to the cheese, I dont mean to go on about cheese but its just an example)
Thanks, Hanna for the idea!
Actually, the bourbon part refers to a variety of vanilla bean called Bourbon, not because of the booze itself:
Yep. You can see what I wrote in my comment to B Lam above. I’ve used vodka, rum, and bourbon to make vanilla in the past. I like bourbon and vodka the best. Really, any hard liquor will do!
Lisa G says
I make my own vanilla but I leave the beans in. Just replace the liquid every once in awhile with what ever alcohol you want to use. I use rum. I have used the same beans for a few years now. Just as yummy.
WOW!!! I never thought to leave the beans in. YOU ARE BRILLIANT. Surely at some point the vanilla beans run out of vanilla-ness and the final product doesn’t have as much punch? But even to re-use them two or three times would be a huge savings. How many times have you re-used yours?
Yep, I make my own as well. Just top up the alcohol every so often. Easy peasy!
I like vanilla sugar. To make that take 1/4-1/3 of a vanilla bean and put it in whatever you use for sugar and leave it for a few weeks until the bean is completely dessicated. The bean will feel dry, hard, and be easy to snap. Break the bean into little pieces then put it and the sugar into a coffee grinder and whiz it until the bean disappears. The sugar will get very fine. 1 tsp is about the equivalent of 1 tsp of liquid. I like to sprinkle a little on my coffee which you can do with any kind of spice shaker. Keep the lid on to keep the sugar dry and from clumping.
I did not check all the comments, but I use the Pure Vanilla Extract by Spice Islands. It contains no corn syrup.
I hope you don’t mind, but I pressed this. No one reads my blog, but I did gush a little about your posts. 🙂 Guess I’ll be making this from now on. Does bourbon allow corn syrup? It’s a corn whiskey… and Jim Beams site goes on and on about how theirs is soooo sweet and smooth… It sort of occurred to me that it might also be adulterated. I guess I’ll be trying it with vodka, since there isn’t potato sweetner. HA!
Yes, folks with sensitivities usually do best making extracts with potato vodka. Just make sure the vodka you get is made from potatoes! (A lot these days aren’t.)
Great post! I recently posted a post on my blog about how vanilla is grown and processed. It is quite labor intensive.
here is the link:http://www.thewitheredherb.com/2012/02/16/what-is-the-most-recognizable-scent-in-the-world/
B Lam says
Yes, it’s labour intensive, but what is the alternative?
From a sustainability point of view, classical vanilla preparation is very good – good for the planet, as the energy source used to dry the pods is the sun, good for the people, as they have local employment and a source of income, and good for profit, in that there is a market ready to pay the price and no need for unsustainable charity.
Yes, it is possible to make the process less labour intensive, but then fewer locals would be employed, and the energy source would have to be derived from fossil fuels. Is this what we really want?
The consideration for us all is that we should pay a fair price for the products that we want. It is us, the consumers NOT willing to pay that force food companies to dilute or sweeten products – not the other way around.
The FDA and their ‘rules’ are such a JOKE!
So true!!! I mean, who, when reading that label would think “pure” referred only to the “vanilla” and not to the “vanilla extract”?
The problem is, the FDA is bogus…the heads of the large pharma and food companies run it! Talk about the foxes guarding the hen house…we need a totally non-governmental agency running a true FDA!
Penelope Gonzales says
I would love to make my own vanilla extract . . . but in your article you don’t give amounts/or proportions. Where could I find the recipe? And, I was wondering, do you break up the beans, or do you put them in whole? I love the idea unreservedly, and thank you, too for the heads up on what to look for on the label.
You’re welcome. Maybe I’ll do a post about it soon. I often forget to do posts for things I think of as uncomplicated, straightforward, or easy. It’s only when readers like you tell me that they’d appreciate it that it even gets on my radar!
ed fields says
pure vanilla extract at $640.00 / gallon
wow, all that and some corn syrup too. Talk about chitz-pah!
One more product line that’s off my shopping list.
Its a small thing, but we take our satisfaction where ever it comes these days.
wow. Just checked my pure bourbon vanilla extract from Trader Joe’s and it has bourbon, vanilla bean extractives in water and alcohol 35%. It has no sugars and was on $6 for 4 oz!!
Penelope Gonzales says
Shoot . . . I found your recipe hiding in the comments; thanks. I’m going to do this for sure now!
I’ve been making my own vanilla for about 5 years now. I used the highest proof good quality 750ml bottle of vodka I could find, added 5 split vanilla beans and left for a few weeks. Probably once a year I’ll add another bean. To use it I roughly half fill a small bottle with the vanilla then top up with filtered water. Leave the rest of the vanilla/vodka to continue infusing. The beans don’t go ‘off’ as the vodka is a preservative.
I give some to family members and am about to start my second bottle of vodka with new beans.
Marg, I’d bet that would make one fine vanilla bean martini lol…:P
I ran out of the wonderful vanilla my kids brought me from Mexico so bought what was available here. McCormick Vanilla and it Does! have corn syrup in it. I never would have expected that from McCormick!
I guess it is time to make my own!
Leave it to “Big Food” to adulterate vanilla extract…I make it easy on myself…I refuse to buy anything from “Big Food”…only small, ethical companies…Did you know Kashi is owned by Kellog’s? That’s why their cereals have so much sugar…there are a few other posers created by Big Food…Dagoba chocolate; Cascadian Farms produce and Nature Valley Granola Bars…I go so far as to research the companies I buy from…makes sense, since I read where in the 50’s, Quaker Oats fed some contaminated cereal to mentally disabled kids to see what the “effects” would be…scary stuff…there was a class action against them for this nonsense, which was settled in the 70’s…would you feel comfortable buying ANYTHING from this company? I sure as hell don’t…
[email protected] says
This is why we make our own vanilla. It is a best seller in our store and we ship it all over the world. We love REAL pure vanilla extract. No corn syrup and not even watered down. I was shocked when I realized vanilla labelled “pure” etc had additives, or was just watered down and not strong. Adding a little vanilla extract to kefir is wonderful. It tones down the tartness.
I’ve been making my own vanilla extract for about almost a year. When I read up about making “pure” vanilla extract at home, the primary ingredient is alcohol, usually vodka, though others can be used, such as rum or brandy.
Corn syrup is often added to take the alcohol edge off the smell and taste. I don’t add it to most of my vanilla extracts except Indonesian extract because of the distinct, woody aftertaste which is not particularly pleasant. Indonesian vanilla beans reportedly handle higher cooking or baking temperatures better than other vanilla species.
To keep from adding corn syrup, I often will mix Indonesian in one to one ratio with either Madagascar vanilla extract or Tahitian vanilla extract.
I do not have quite the same disdain for corn syrup that many do, but I prefer to use other sweeteners when possible. But the amount used in a so-called “pure” vanilla extract should be quite small considering how little vanilla extract most recipes call for.
If you go to Arizona and have a Passport, walk across the border at Naco, AZ to Naco, Mexico. Buy a huge bottle of vanilla or two. Give one away, and you’ll have plenty of vanilla ‘forever.’ A friend who used to be @ Ft. Huachuca tipped us off. We love Naco Vanilla!
Be very careful of Mexican vanilla extract or paste. Some of it is wonderful, but some of it is made from Tonka beans, which contain damaging coumarin, banned by the FDA for causing liver damage in test animals. If you feel corn syrup or even artificial vanilla extract is bad, the fake Mexican vanilla is likely much worse for you.
James Marcos says
Yikes! CJDH – Virtually 95% of all Mexican vanilla extract is not real. That bottle of stuff you buy when you walk over the border? Any Mexican vanilla that is made anywhere outside of Veracruz (i.e. Jalisco…) is full of junk – Vanillian, corn syrup, tonka beans, coumarin, caramel coloring, sugar, and maybe, just maybe, real vanilla beans.
It might not say so on the label. Yes, there are labeling laws in Mexico, but guess what? No one follows those rules. No enforcement.
Virtually all of the vanilla grown in Mexico comes from Veracruz, and if the extract is not actually made in Veracruz, DON’T BUY IT! Poison!
Laura @ Stealthy Mom says
Timely! We were out of vanilla, and had not gotten around to making our own. As luck would have it, the version in our store of this very vanilla extract had no corn syrup. The other two brands on the shelf did, though.
Half-Crazed Runner says
I use Simply Organic. It’s made with organic extractives in water & organic alcohol. An added plus is that 1% of sales fund organic farming & education.
This is actually my impetus for making my own vanilla. Around last Christmas I was making homemade soft drinks and wanted to try something new – I tried to make creme soda with water kefir and vanilla. Well, I ran out of the vanilla my mom makes and ran to the store thinking that vanilla surely couldn’t be messed up, right?
WRONG. That McCormick stuff makes the worst soft drinks ever. And I still have the packaging because I’m waiting for them to get back to me about how ‘pure vanilla’ could have corn syrup in it.
Oh, and apparently Mississippians don’t deserve unadulterated vanilla because every single solitary vanilla here had some sort of sugar in it. >:(
So what’s the recipe for vanilla—-I mean the exact proportions. And do we really need to let it sit for years?
Oh…I see the recipe in the blog!
McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract contains NO sugar. I’m looking at the label right now. Ingredients: Vanilla Bean extractives in water,and Alcohol (41%)
I just found this article while wandering around your site, and I am so glad I did. I’ve been buying McCormicks Natural Vanilla Extract, as opposed to buying Imitation Vanilla Essence, and looking at the labels on the two bottles currently in my pantry, one contains fructose, and the other invert sugar and glucose. I just did the math, and learnt buying a bundle of vanilla beans and rum (the good stuff at that) from Australia’s principal rum distillery (they’re basically local to me) will be no more expensive than buying this adulterated vanilla extract. Thanks for the article!
The Fair Seas Spice Co. says
Great article. Thanks for posting, especially the homemade vanilla extract alternative.
I’m so, so glad I found your site! I’ll be making extracts as Christmas gifts this year. I wish I knew sooner — I spent a lot of money over the years on my spice cabinet staples such as Vanilla, Almond and Lemon extract. NEVER AGAIN!
I just went and checked my extracts. Vanilla was good, no corn syrup but my cinnamon extract has cinnamon extract, alcohol, water and first ingredient is propylene glycol! WHY???
I am surprised that making your own extract is cheaper than buying it made, I have seen the price of vanilla beans!
Lesa W says
I was just in the grocery store today and noticed a box of McCormick Vanilla Extract that was labeled ‘no corn syrup’ on the front. I had never seen that package variant before.
The 41% alcohol, corn syrup free McCormick Vanilla that I have been buying is just over $7.00 at the Dillons (Kroger) store where I usually shop. But, I just found vanilla extract, also 41% alcohol and corn syrup free, at Aldi for only $1.99. I don’t remember every seeing it there before, so it might be one of their seasonal items. I just thought I’d share in case anyone else was near an Aldi.
James Marcos says
Adding another piece here to why sweeteners are added to vanilla extract.
A little known secret by the food industry – adding sweetener to extracts fools the palate into thinking you are actually getting more flavor (somewhat like msg). In other words, the companies can get away with using LESS real vanilla beans in the extracts and charging the same prices.
If any vanilla extract you buy has any sweetener – DO NOT BUY IT!
KristenM is quite right on pointing out where artificial vanilla comes from – the wood pulp industry as well as BEAVER GLANDS (these glands are located near the anal orifice). What is this? Vanillin.
Real Vanilla has over 200 compounds that make up the flavor of vanilla, one of which IS vanillin. However, that one is just one of the compounds. Real Vanilla is very complex and literally one of the most expensive flavors to use (the other is saffron).
So what does the industry do? Extract vanillin out of wood pulp (you know, where your toilet and 8×10 paper comes from), or from the ubiquitous beaver glands. Way cheeper for them to use that the real vanilla beans. Artificial vanilla extract is only made with this stuff and leaves a bitter metallic aftertaste – thus the sweeteners.
James Marcos says
BTW – artificial almond extract comes from (dramatic pause)… Extracts from the Petroleum industry (coal shale…) as well as chemically made in a lab.
Michael Carmody says
For our donut shop, we buy pure vanilla extracts from a variety of sources, including McCormick’s. The pint bottles I have here are labeled “no corn syrup added” and the ingredients list only: “vanilla bean extractives in water, and alcohol (41%).” Perhaps it’s time to update your column in response to this change.
This was already addressed in the post when I wrote:
“Here’s another interesting bit: you can’t count on the same brand label to always have the same ingredients. Guess how I know this?
I’ve got two bottles of McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract in front of me. Both have identical labels and packaging. Only one has corn syrup. The other has 41% alcohol and no corn syrup or other additives.”
This is why the McCormick is BOTH “rejected” AND “approved,” and why I recommend folks read their labels!
I made some homemade vanilla extract back in March. I’ve used it exactly 3 times. I don’t like it. I’m sure it would be fine in cooked things, but since we are grain free, I don’t do a whole lot of baking. I do use a lot of vanilla in yogurt and kefir though, and when raw, I can still taste the alcohol. I have an entire liter still sitting in my cabinet. 🙂 Perhaps it will be great to someone else for Christmas. 🙂
Hi Kristen! Can you help me? I am looking for your resources on the food labeling laws, especially as it pertains to the word “pure”. I’ve heard many times that if something is labeled as “pure” it only has to be 51% made up of the “pure” ingredient. Where do you get your food labeling law info? I need some good sources! Thanks so much!
Just a note on vanilla flavoring…I bake for a lady who has life threatening food allergies…soy,tree nuts, corn etc…I was using only Simply Organic Vanilla for the items I bake for her. To my surprise after doing a bit of research,I found out that the alcohol in that brand as well as most other brands of vanilla is derived from Corn!!
Now, I make my own vanilla using Vodka made from potatoes.
Why is my homemade vanilla extract not as dark as store bought?
I used 1/2 cup of 80 proof vodka and 4 vanilla beans, split and scraped. It has been sitting in a cabinet for 3 months and I shake it regularly, but it looks like very weak tea. Do commercial producers use some technique to darken it?
wow. so glad I googled this first. Now i’m not going to buy this brand from Walmart. Better to spend more at Whole Foods.
I’ve been looking to make my own vanilla, but know little to nothing about my alcohol choices. Do you have any recommendations?
I read in another blog that the amount of vanilla beans needed to make vanilla extract was actually double what most recipes call for. 8 beans to 8 oz. of alcohol (otherwise the end product will be weak). The beans should be covered with at least 1 inch of liquid, so depending on the container used, the beans may need to be cut into shorter pieces. A potato based alcohol is recommended, especially if anyone is allergic to corn or grains. The mix should be shaken every few days and stored in a dark, non-fridge area, about room temperature. I read that the finished product can be stored in the freezer, but depending on the water content of some alcohols, the water may separate and freeze while the alcohol won’t freeze.
I would like to know about the “double strength” labeling on some brands. I do not know if that labeling means that the product is twice as strong, thus you would use 1/2 the amount a recipe calls for, or if that is a labeling scam just to advertise the product. The taste is very similar to other “NON double strength” extracts. Anyone that can help on this, I would appreciate hearing from.
P. Doyle says
The bottle does not state what kind of alcohol is used. For those with corn allergies, this is a problem. Corn is in many pre-processed things, including organic meat. It is insidious.
Also, if you are looking for a cause, look at titanium dioxide. It is in almost everything and does not have to be in the ingredient list because it is not over 1 percent of the volume of things containing it. I have a child who is allergic to this. It is a real problem.
Pat Aho says
Get your facts straight. McCormick Pure Vanilla Extract does not have corn syrup.
Click on your own link and see for yourself.
Just a bunny says
“So, what lessons can you learn here? – Even in the world of “100% Pure” extracts, you need to read labels”
“According to the FDA, the label “pure” means that the vanilla flavor comes only from the extractives of the vanilla bean”
And also that the words used in food labeling may well not mean what a reasonable person would think they mean. :-S
Christie Pollard says
My McCormick vanilla states “No corn syrup.” Ingredients are listed as vanilla bean, water, alcohol.
The McCormick I bought says vanilla bean extractives in water, and alcohol? No percentile. On the label it says no corn syrup . Gluten free non GMO all natural pure vanilla.
I think I will make my own in the future.
Penzeys Spices Pure Vanilla Extract single strength has sugar . Water Alcohol, Sugar and Vanilla Bean Extractives. 35% alcohol. Is this brand any bettr than McCormick? Thankns.
Becky Downs says
Hi! I am a person with lots of food allergies due to no diagnosis of Lyme disease 44 years ago. I have cleared my diet of grains, beans, seeds, nuts, caffeine, sugars, and dairy. I’m discovering that grains or soy in extracts cause me trouble like their source does. I’d love to see info on extracts and what their alcohol source is. I’m suspecting that potato vodka might not create an allergic reacton for me. Do you know of any extracts made from potato vodka? Would it work to make some vanilla extract at home?
Shauna Jackson says
Thank you for this very helpful post – as I stand here in Sam’s deciding whether or not to buy the McCormick’s vanilla w/its vague wording which does not give the % of alcohol but has no corn syrup or sugar . The price is great but not worth it if it’s a weak product.
Susan Linke says
I looked at the McCormick’s ingredients on their website and no corn syrup is listed. Has this changed since you wrote the article?
The Great Value brand at Walmart has the same ingredients as the McCormick brand, except for their larger size. The larger size lists the alcohol as ethyl alcohol. It also doesn’t state the percentage of ethyl alcohol!
Dina Garcia says
I wish you would have given complete instruction on how you make your own vanilla extract; what kind of bourban?, in plactic bowl? aluminum pans?covered? not cover? in refridgerator? room temp? how many weeks? , etc in the article since you referenced I twice. So us dummies could try it. Also where to buy organic premium vanilla beans?
Thank you!!! I have wondered of McCprmick was real for years.
I bought 4, 1fl oz all natural put vanilla. Two are brownish in color, two are pink/ red. Is it ok to use the red? And why would it be red??