Vanilla extract is the chief ingredient in many recipes and thus every chef's choice. It is extracted from vanilla beans and presented to you in enclosed bottles. There are about 150 varieties of vanilla plant across the world and out of all these, two species are used commercially but Bourbon or Madagascar is the most popular.
As per the standards set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, pure vanilla extract is the one that has 35% alcohols and 13.35 ounces of vanilla bean per gallon. But there also exist natural extract that is with almost no or very little alcohol.
How to Make Vanilla Extract?
To make it, first of all chopped beans are percolated or macerated in ethyl alcohol and water. For this large steel containers are used. To cut down the flavor loss, whole process is carried out in cold surroundings. Entire activity of extraction takes about 48 hours. After extraction, the extract remains with the beans for a day or two, which then is filtered out. In extract along with vanilla other things like sugar, caramel, corn syrup and stabilizers are also there but mostly these are not mentioned on the bottles.
Vanilla extract is slightly sweet to taste but some manufacturers further add 3-5 % of sugar in it although it is not necessary. If the extract is made from the sugarcane alcohol then it will be slightly unpleasant that is subdued by adding sugar.
Tips to Check the Purity of Extract
In USA very strict rules are followed for the labels. If on the bottle it is written Vanilla Extract then it means that it has been made from alcohol, vanilla beans and water.
On the other hand if the bottle contains the label stating Vanilla Flavor then it made with glycerine or propylene glycol.
Whereas the Imitation vanilla has synthetic vanillin that in turn made from chemicals.
Also there is an alcohol free substitute to the alcohol based one. This is made from glycerine and propylene glycol with beans. This is also named as vanilla extract. It is slightly darker and viscose than the alcohol based extract.
You will also find something like single fold, double fold etc written on the bottle. The fold indicates the concentration. Single fold (1x) is the pure or standard form whereas double fold or 2x is twice as strong as 1x.
Vanilla extract is used as food flavouring agent in many recipes. The most popular onces are apple cake, almond coconut cake, apricot cake and more. If you are using the pure vanilla extract then it has indefinite shelf-life and also improves with time like liquor. Instead of extract, powder is also available that should be kept in a tightly sealed bottles and that too away from Sun.