The difference between vanilla essence and vanilla extract (and how to make your own at home)

June 08, 2016

vanilla custard with Heilala Vanilla beans pods extract essence sugar syrupVanilla is the 'underwear of baking', an invisible essential. It supports, balances, mellows and gives depth to dishes. It can be its own star in ice cream, custard or crème brulee or an enhancer for chocolate, coffee, nut and fruit flavors.

Vanilla essence and vanilla extract are often talked about as if they are the same thing – the bottles might look similar, but what’s inside is not.

Vanilla essence is a manufactured liquid that tastes a bit like vanilla but contains little or no real vanillin. There are a number of ways a synthetic vanilla flavor can be made.

Natural vanilla flavor is often derived from pine bark or cloves (National Geographic reported on vanilla flavor being derived from the anal excretions of beavers – ewwww! Fortunately whilst castoreum can be used this way, it's not really common)

Imitation vanilla is usually derived from crude oil. Both naturally derived essences and synthetic flavors require additional additives, such as coloring, sweeteners and preservatives to make them look, smell and be able to be used like the real thing. The outcome of these synthetic concoctions are usually thinner, lighter in color and with a weaker and less complex flavour than real extract yet it’s estimated that 98% of the world’s vanilla products are imitations.

In genuine vanilla extract, much of the amazing fragrance and intense flavor comes from vanillin – a molecule found in vanilla beans. Vanilla beans usually contain around 3 – 5% vanillin however climate, curing and variety impact on the potency of the vanillin so high quality vanilla beans naturally produce more vanillin and so the type of bean that is used in the extract process will make a difference to the end result. Vanillin extracted from vanilla beans is $2000 - $4000/kg compared with synthesis using biotechnology $1000/kg or synthesis from petrochemicals $15/kg so extract will also cost more.

Because vanillin has over 300 organic compounds real vanilla extract has a far more complex and rich taste than synthetic versions. Real vanilla extract contains the complete spectrum of oils, aromas and flavour compounds found in real vanilla beans.

heilala vanilla beans on board3The ‘fold’ of vanilla extract refers to extract strength. The Federal Drug Administration (FDA) says that vanilla extract should contain 100gm of vanilla bean extractives per litre of liquid. So that’s ‘single fold’. Double fold contains 200gm of vanilla bean extractives per liter and triple fold 300gm. The FDA allows use of glycerine, propylene glycol, sugar (including invert sugar), dextrose and corn syrup so there’s still quite a lot of variation in what can be in your real extract – reading the label is always a good idea.

baking with vanilla cooking with vanilla extract vanilla cakeSwapping one for another in recipes

Many people do use essence where a recipe calls for extract and vice versa however there are a few things to consider. Extract is a much stronger, richer flavour, so if the recipe calls for essence and you’d rather use extract you may like to use a little less – unless you’re totally up for a strong vanilla flavor. And vice versa, if the recipe calls for extract and you only have essence on hand you may like to add a touch more. For those who like to go for a natural, chemical free option – of course, go for extract every time.

Where to get real extract

Heilala vanilla extract 100ml pure organicI recommend Heilala Vanilla single fold extract for home use as one teaspoon is equivalent strength to flavor of one vanilla bean. It’s also one of the few extracts on the US market that’s made without sugar or corn syrup. Heilala Vanilla grows organic Bourbon variety vanilla beans which are cured by hand for maximum vanillin production. The extract is batch brewed in stainless steel vats where diced vanilla beans are carefully soaked in cold water and alcohol to produce a range of concentrates. This unique cold extract, slow percolation method draws out the delicate aromatics and sweet, creamy and complex flavors of the high quality Heilala beans. Heilala Vanilla extract comes in 50ml

We've also got an exciting new range of vanilla extracts in which are spiked with more flavor! Try peppermint, berry, cocoa, coffee, pumpkin spice and aged oak.

Create an account at for $5 off your first vanilla order. Super fast shipping and shipping is free on orders of $35 or more (Flat $5 shipping rate on smaller orders) 


100 pure ground vanilla bean powder cropped2An excellent alternative to vanilla extract is vanilla powder. Vanilla powder is a dried vanilla product and pure vanilla powder is simply dried ground vanilla beans. A quality vanilla powder should be 100% vanilla beans with no added sugar or fillers although they can be hard to find on the market. Fortunately Heilala don't add anything to their vanilla powder.

There are lots of reasons someone may choose to use powder instead of extract. Avoiding alcohol, wanting to have a dry product for a baking mix or to carefully control the liquid in a recipe is another. Read more about when vanilla powder is a good choice instead of vanilla extract





heilala vanilla USA online best place to buy Heilala vanilla extractHeilala vanilla beans are organically grown in virgin soil on coconut husk trellis and dried in the Pacific sun. It's no wonder Heilala has been named the best grade in Asia Pacific because of the freshness and quality of the beans. Not only has establishing the Heilala Vanilla plantation in Vava’u provided much needed resources to the community, in doing this, Heilala is the only vanilla company in the world with complete ownership of product from vine to pantry. The full trace-ability from source to pantry eliminates the need for unnecessary handling and you can be sure of 100% pure vanilla every time.

Making real vanilla extract at home

Making your own vanilla extract home is really easy.

home made vanilla extractYou will need:

  • An 8 oz. glass gottle or jar
  • 3-6 Vanilla Beans depending on the quality of beans and how strong you want your extract
  • 1 cup alcohol (Vodka has the most neutral flavor but you can get creative and use bourbon, rum or brandy for an extract with a twist. Commercial extracts are usually a 35% or 70 proof alcohol)


  • Slice each bean long-ways and place them in bottle
  • Pour in a cup of alcohol and make sure the vanilla beans are completely submerged.
  • And then you wait – give the bottle a shake once or twice a week and let the beans infuse for at least a month, although 2 months is even better as the flavors will become more complex over time.
  • After 8 weeks you can take the beans out if you’re happy with the flavor or leave them in and the extract will continue to age and develop (a bit like wine). You may also keep topping up with alcohol if you want more.

Store at room temperature out of direct sunlight (the pantry is ideal) and your extract should have a shelf life of 2 – 3years. Homemade vanilla extract makes great gifts especially if you’ve chosen a cool bottle.


About The Kiwi Importer

We bring the best of New Zealand's foodie and skin care products to the USA. Create an account for $5 off your first order. Shipping is free on orders of $35 or more (in the USA) and we ship super fast. Shop our line of vanilla and baking products, olive oils, manuka honey, apple cider vinegar, organic tea, ghee, sauces and much more!




#vanilla extract #natural ingredients #Heilala Vanilla #Vanilla Beans #Vanilla Essence #Baking with vanilla #Halal vanilla #Fair Trade Vanilla #Heilala Vanilla USA online


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