Vanilla essence and vanilla extract of them sound so similar but are very different and have different uses. Vanilla extract is made from vanilla beans and used in various desserts and dishes. The beans are soaked in alcohol and then is extracted and it is made to use. It is used as a flavouring agent and vanilla ice cream is one of the most common flavours. It is used in both commercial and domestic use. Vanilla is the second most expensive spice after saffron. It is the most labour intensive in agricultural products and that is why is expensive in comparison to other spices.
The vanilla extract doesn’t have any kind of artificial colours or chemicals. It is made purely from natural substances and it also enhances the flavours of food. It gets a strong flavour from vanillin, a molecule that is found in vanilla beans. It is less processed and can be used as a substitute for the essence. Lack of availability, high price, environmental concerns and alcohol content can be some of the reasons why people look for a substitute. Many ingredients can catch the flavour of the vanilla beans which can be a great substitute for it.
If the vanilla beans aren’t available then you can switch to fruits, spices, liquor or liquid sweeteners. Many home chefs and bakers generally don’t prefer any kind of substitute as they want that robust and complex flavour in their recipe. Not everyone can use or like the flavour of pure vanilla, so people like them can always use imitation vanilla which gives the same texture and taste. You can also have your vanilla extract at home. It is a very simple combination, just soak the vanilla beans in alcohol and that is all you need to do.
It is also very experimenting to have new flavours as you can add a few or more vanilla beans with different alcohols. There can be many reasons where you would not want to use pure vanilla instead you want the substitute. There is always a choice of what you want to add to your food.
Vanilla essence is often made from water, ethanol, propylene glycol, emulsifiers, flavourings and colourants. These are some artificial things which are added to it. This is very much processed and not all-natural. It has some flavour, texture and fragrance like vanilla extract although the extract is more pure and natural. It is less expensive than the vanilla extract and is convenient if you baking in bulks or if need it in large quantities. If you are using the essence instead of the extract then you have to double up the amount while adding it to the dish.
It can be used in baked goods where vanilla is not the star flavour of the main ingredient. It is also known as imitation vanilla flavour. The nutritional value and the flavour in the essence are less than the extract as it has artificial colours and chemicals. The essence only copies the flavour, not the nutrition. It is made up of artificial colours and is cheap so, people generally prefer this when they bake something where a strong vanilla flavour or smell is not needed. If you have to use it only once then you don’t have to buy the expensive vanilla extract this will do the work.
Pure vanilla extract not only provides a nice aroma to the food but also has many health benefits with a minimal calorie impact. It has a compound name vanillin which has antioxidants, antidepressants and anti tumour effects. The anti-bacterial functions help in preventing the body from any kind of infection. In 2011 a study was published in the journal of food protection showed that vanillin, ethyl vanillin and vanillic acid has an antibacterial activity that combats the cronobactor species. This bacteria causes severe and sometimes fatal infections in infants and elderly people with the weak immune system.
The antioxidants present in it helps in preventing the free radicals in the body which stops the development of cancer cells in the body. Due to the antioxidants and antitumour properties in vanillin, it works great for cancer patients. In December 2016 a research study was published in oxidative medicine and cellular longevity proposed that products containing vanillin may be useful in preventing the free radicals which are responsible for tumour development. The soothing smell of vanilla acts as an antidepressant to those people who love the fragrance of it.
Research published in the Indian Journal of Pharmacology in 2013 showed that vanillin has antidepressant effects comparable to a common antidepressant medication known as Fluoxetine. This medication has side effects like strange dreams, sleeplessness etc. Vanillin has no side effects instead provides relief to depression and cures mental stress. You should of course check with your doctor first before switching from antidepressants to vanilla extract. Vanilla also is added to scent perfumes and lotions calming, sweet and pleasant aroma Vanilla extract also contains magnesium and potassium which are very healthy for our body.
To conclude whatever you choose should be based on what are you cooking and what are your requirements. After that, you choose whatever you want whether it is the vanilla extract or vanilla essence.