Vanilla Essence Vs Vanilla Extract – The Differences

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Though they are often mistaken for being the same thing, vanilla essence and vanilla extract actually have significant differences that affect the ways in which they can be used, their nutritional value, and the flavor that they create. These two products are made in very distinct ways, and one is markedly healthier than the other. 

So what is the difference between vanilla essence and vanilla extract? While vanilla extract is a natural product, vanilla essence is a synthetically produced vanilla-flavored product that, though the cheaper of the two, has an inferior nutritional value and, in most cases, an inferior flavor.

Read on to find out all that you need to know when it comes to distinguishing between vanilla essence and vanilla extract. We’ll touch on production, purpose, and nutritional value, as well as answering common questions that arise when distinguishing vanilla essence from vanilla extract.  

Vanilla Essence Vs Vanilla Extract – What’s The Difference?

Though they sound quite similar, vanilla essence and vanilla extract are significantly different products.

While vanilla essence is a cheaper, synthetically produced product, vanilla extract is only produced from natural ingredients

How Vanilla Essence and Vanilla Extract Are Produced

Vanilla essence is a synthetic, chemically produced substance that, though imitates vanilla, is not made of real vanilla.

In fact, vanilla essence often includes crude oil, or petroleum, which is processed to imitate vanilla flavoring. 

On the other hand, vanilla extract is a natural product that is created by soaking vanilla pods in a solution of ethyl alcohol and water.

Vanilla extract gets its strong flavor from vanillin, a molecule that is found in vanilla beans. 

The Difference in Ingredients

As mentioned, the big difference between vanilla essence and vanilla extract lies in their ingredients and how they are produced.

The ingredients that make vanilla essence often include all or some of the following:

  • Water
  • Ethanol
  • Propylene glycol
  • Emulsifiers
  • Flavorings
  • Colorant

Vanilla extract typically consists of:

  • Water
  • Alcohol
  • Natural extracts of vanilla bean
  • Sugar

Most vanilla extract is free of all artificial products, as you can see by its ingredients. 

Though vanilla extract does contain some sugar, there is no need to worry. The amount of sugar that vanilla extract contains is insignificant, and its pure and natural ingredients are the more important component to focus on.

Different Uses for Vanilla Essence and Vanilla Extract

While both vanilla essence and vanilla extract are used primarily for baking purposes, their difference in quality and price lends to distinct uses.

Read on to find how exactly you should cook with vanilla essence and vanilla extract. 

How To Use Vanilla Essence

Because vanilla essence is a cheaper product, it is convenient for those who are baking in bulk or need to use large quantities of it.

However, due to the fact that it is made from artificial ingredients, it has a less natural flavor, so you want to avoid using it in recipes in which vanilla is one of the key ingredients. 

If you’re baking a large cake or a big batch of cookies that call for a dash of vanilla, you probably won’t be able to note the inferior flavor of vanilla essence.

If you don’t have vanilla and want to make up for the lack of flavor, read this article: The Best Substitute For Vanilla Extract in Cookies

Vanilla essence is also an affordable choice for bakers or chefs who have to feed very large amounts of people. 

When baking with vanilla essence, add it in when you add the rest of the wet ingredients.

You probably won’t want to use it in cold desserts, such as a custard or a pudding, considering that vanilla extract is of superior quality and flavor.

How To Use Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract, on the other hand, is a high-quality ingredient that you can use in a variety of recipes, baking and beyond.

While it can be used to add flavor to cakes, cookies, and pastries, it is also a great product to use when vanilla needs to be the star of the show. 

If you’re making a custard or homemade vanilla pudding, add it in when your dish is done cooking and has already been taken off of the heat. The same goes for frostings or icings.

If you’re baking with it, add it in at the same time that you would add vanilla essence, when you are mixing your wet ingredients. 

When cooking with vanilla extract, don’t be afraid to let it shine!

Show it off in vanilla-forward recipes such as vanilla cheesecake, homemade vanilla ice cream, vanilla meringue cookies, angel food cake, or even vanilla coffee creamer.  

Our favorite way to use vanilla extract is in vanilla ice cream. Click here for the best vanilla extracts for vanilla ice cream.

The Difference in Price: Affordable and Mostly Affordable

As previously mentioned, vanilla essence tends to be significantly cheaper than vanilla extract due to the fact that vanilla extract is made from purer, higher quality ingredients.

We recommend shelling out the extra few dollars that vanilla extract will cost you because though comparatively more expensive, it’s still a relatively affordable product. 

Vanilla extract typically costs anywhere between $2 and $5 an ounce, meaning that an 8-ounce bottle can cost anywhere between $20 and $40 dollars.

However, a little goes a long way when using vanilla extract, so it’s sure to last you a long time. 

Substitutes For Vanilla Essence and Vanilla Extract

If you can’t seem to get your hands on vanilla essence or vanilla extract, there are a few alternatives that you can use in their place.

Vanilla bean paste is a mixture of vanilla extract and vanilla powder, and it can be used in place of vanilla essence and vanilla extract in a wide variety of situations. (You can view our favorite vanilla bean paste here.)

Vanilla paste is most appropriate when preparing cold products, such as ice cream, frosting, or icing.

However, you’ll want to make sure that it is properly incorporated into the rest of your ingredients, as you are using something with a much thicker consistency than vanilla essence or vanilla extract. 

If you’re looking for another creative vanilla project, consider placing some halved vanilla beans in a jar of sugar. Close the jar and let it sit for a few weeks in a cool dark place.

The sugar will absorb the vanilla aromas, and you’ll be able to use it in a plethora of baking recipes! Instead of adding regular sugar into your cookies and cupcakes, use this vanilla-infused sugar and omit any vanilla essence or vanilla extract that the recipe calls for. 

If you enjoy vanilla lattes or vanilla coffee creamer, you could also combine this vanilla-infused sugar with milk or Half-and-Half to spruce up your cup of coffee.

This vanilla sugar will last a long time, making it an incredibly affordable alternative to vanilla extract. 

For even more ideas to sweeten up your coffee, read this: The Best Coffee Sweeteners

Related Questions About Vanilla Essence Vs Vanilla Extract

Thanks for reading our carefully researched article about the differences between vanilla essence and vanilla extract! Now that you know the main differences, we thought we’d do you a favor and answer the most frequently asked questions. Enjoy!

Which is healthier, vanilla essence or vanilla extract?

As you can see, vanilla extract is clearly both a higher-quality and healthier choice.

Vanilla essence contains a plethora of artificial and chemical ingredients (sometimes even petroleum), and though it won’t make you sick, a natural product like vanilla extract is the much healthier choice. 

Can you substitute vanilla essence for vanilla extract and vice versa?

Though vanilla essence and vanilla extract are very similar products, there are a few things that you must take into consideration when replacing one for the other.

Vanilla extract is significantly stronger than vanilla essence, so if a recipe calls for vanilla essence and you only have vanilla extract on hand, be sure to use less than the recipe calls for.

On the other hand, if you are stuck with vanilla essence and your recipe calls for vanilla extract, you’ll need to use more vanilla essence to achieve the same flavor that you would with vanilla extract. 

Can you make vanilla essence at home?

Because vanilla essence is a chemically processed item, you cannot (and probably wouldn’t want to) make it at home.

That being said, you can make homemade vanilla extract.

All you need is a glass bottle or jar, vanilla beans, and clear liquor (preferably vodka).

  • Slice your vanilla beans in half and place them in the jar, then submerge them in alcohol and cover the jar. 
  • You’ll want to give your vanilla extract at least one month to infuse, but the longer you let it sit the better.
  • Leaving it in a cool, dark place for at least two months is the ideal way to ensure that your vanilla extract has a rich and potent flavor. 
  • Homemade vanilla extract can last up to three years, and it is an excellent, effortless gift that any baking aficionado will surely appreciate. It is also a much more affordable alternative to buying vanilla extract.  

Up Next: Does Vanilla Extract Go Bad? – How To Tell

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