Why You Shouldn’t Use Imitation Vanilla!

Maybe you knew this already, but just in case…check out this email from Lindsy:

Hi Laura!  I was just telling some friends today about my adventures in making vanilla extract.  I live near Appleton, WI and this area is sometimes referred to as the Paper Valley because there are so many paper mills in the area.  Anyway, one of my friends was saying that her husband works at a paper mill and part of his job is to collect the “run-off” from paper pulp.  They then sell this by-product to companies that make it into imitation vanilla extract.  How disgusting is that!?!  I did a little Googling to see if this is for real, and found this on Wiki Answers:

“Imitation vanilla is manufactured either from clove oil (eugenol) or as a breakdown product of lignin from a conifer (e.g., spruce, Picea).”

I really don’t want to flavor my food with the run off from paper pulp, so I’ll stick to making homemade vanilla…  :)

vanilla

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Comments

  1. Liz Busby says

    I’m sorry, but as a chemistry major in college, I have to say, that’s kind of a silly reason to avoid fake vanilla. You’d be surprised where we can find all sort of useful chemicals.

    Now, cullinary reasons I’ll look into, but this is like rejecting eggs because they are the chicken equivalent of menstruation (gross! yet so tasty!).

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Hmm, your reasoning doesn’t really make me want to eat fake vanilla. Eggs are food…paper run off isn’t. I think it’s great that chemistry can produce useful chemicals. That doesn’t make me want to eat them.

    Oh, and I also think it’s cool and impressive that chemists can mix stuff together to create a flavor similar to vanilla, or strawberry or grape or whatever. Seriously, I think it’s amazing that mixing this with this with this creates a strawberry flavor. But I still don’t want to eat it. I want the real deal!

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    Ronald Rogers Reply:

    There is no functional difference between the “real deal” and what have you. Vanillin is vanillin. But if you want to be irrational and wasteful that is of course your prerogative.

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    Ronald Rogers Reply:

    I should justify this by saying that if you are going to use vanilla in non-baked goods vanilla extract is the way to go. Must follow the taste tests.

    Enya Reply:

    Its not being irrational and wasteful. Maybe some of us actually care about whats going in our bodys. Most of the stuff in food (atleast in the usa)nowadays is terrible for you and doesnt even qualifies as being edible and safe for the human body to consume.

    Jamie Garcia Reply:

    Wow you completely missed the point…

    Do you think that paper mill run off is good for the human body?!

    [Reply]

    Alex G. Reply:

    -Phenol is probably in the paper mill waste.
    -Vanillin (which makes vanilla special) can be made from phenol.
    -There is absolutely no difference between vanillin produced
    synthetically or ‘naturally.’

    -Therefore, when purified (which it is), the vanillin will be
    just as good no matter how you made it.

    [Reply]

  2. Melodya says

    what exactly is the pulp make up? Not that I’m enthusiastic about eating wood juice & only use real vanilla, but is it at least natural? lol or does it mean some chemical they use to treat paper?

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  3. says

    I have *smelled* what a stink those paper plants produce ~ yuck, so glad we are not eating it here =) ~ except when we buy cheap ice cream? :p
    (I have yet to make myself buy some vodka for a batch of homemade…)

    [Reply]

  4. says

    ick…i need to get more vodka and beans! oh and a friend of mine told me that you can reuse the same beans for up to 2 yrs? b/c the vodka preserves them?

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    That is probably right, I’ve heard that you can reuse the beans but the only thing I’ve not tried to do anything with them. I would imagine if you reuse them, your next bunch of vanilla won’t be as strong.

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  5. says

    Yuck, I live 20 miles from Appleton and when the wind is just right we can smell those factories like they were next door – gross!!! I will have to try making my own.

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  6. says

    I ordered my beans from Olive Nation on Monday! I can’t wait to get them in and start my own batch….I am making some up for Christmas gifts and them keeping the rest for myself! I know some people don’t understand why I life making my own stuff like this, but there is something very gratifying about making something yourself and knowing what the ingredients are.

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  7. Jennifer says

    That is so gross! Sometimes I can’t even believe what passes for food in this country…

    I always buy the real vanilla extract, but now I think you have convinced me to make my own, just to be sure I know what is in it!

    [Reply]

  8. Jen says

    gross! laura, have you ever considered selling this in your shop? i would definately consider buying it!

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    I have considered it! But I’m pretty sure that in order to do that, I’d have to have a licensed kitchen and etc. Ugh, the logistics… :)

    [Reply]

  9. says

    Doesn’t white vinegar come from paper pulp or wood pulp, too? I like white vinegar in coleslaw. It puts a certain “zing” into it! Must be the paper. Since companies can sell byproducts from the stuff they make, it makes things less expensive for the consumer. Whey from cheese making is another byproduct that is nutritious and useful for consumers, but could pose a problem if they had to dispose of it in the environment. A lot of folks like potted meat, too.

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Here’s what I found about white vinegar (which thankfully involved nothing of the paper variety!): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vinegar

    I’m great with whey being used even though it is a “byproduct”. At least it’s a food! I use whey myself!

    And…what’s potted meat?

    [Reply]

    Alison Reply:

    So I’m a nutrition student who just stumbled upon this page and I must say, your comments are just…irrational. What makes whey a food and wood pulp not a food? Honestly, how are you classifying these things? It’s one thing if you prefer the taste of “natural” vanilla to the imitation, but to claim that it’s not good for the body because it came from wood pulp?…most healthy food comes from trees/plants. It sounds like you’re just qualifying something as unhealthy simply because you are unfamiliar with it. Honestly, chemistry does not have your back on this one.

    [Reply]

  10. says

    From a web site on the subject: U.S. manufactured artificial vanilla is produced from synthetic “vanillin”, Lignin Vanillin, which is made from a by-product of the paper producing industry. This by product is chemically treated to mimic the flavor of vanilla. The product help take care of a ecological problem with paper producers and created an “affordable” vanilla flavoring for the public.

    The other synthetic common in Mexican artificial flavorings is Ethyl Vanillin derived from coal tar.

    [Reply]

  11. DorthyM says

    Ick! I knew that fake vanilla didnt taste as good as the real stuff (I always take my bottle of real vanilla when I have to cook at my mom’s house) but now I know why. Bleah!

    [Reply]

  12. says

    Laura,

    I found your website through a friend, and laughed when I found out where you are from. I am originally form Missouri, but my family and I live in India now. My sister went to York Christian College and we visited her there several times. I love your idea for making your own vanilla. I have to bring mine with me over here to bake with. We only get to come home to the states every few years. So I have to ration my supplies. I can’t get vanilla bean over here. I was wondering if it would be possible for me to buy some of your homemade vanilla and have my mom send it to me in a care package this Christmas?

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    Wow, that’s so fun that you are familiar with where I live and with the college here! I have considered selling my vanilla in my shop, but I think I’d have to make it in a licensed kitchen and jump through a lot of hoops to make that work. So, at this point I don’t think I can. I WISH I could send some of my vanilla all the way to India!

    [Reply]

  13. says

    I’m with Liz. I definitely prefer the taste of pure vanilla, but if imitation is all I’ve got that’s what I’m using. I am wondering, however, how do you make your own vanilla?

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    http://heavenlyhomemakers.com/making-homemade-vanilla-extract-aka-why-laura-bought-a-gallon-of-vodka

    [Reply]

    Meg Reply:

    Cool, thanks! Looks easy enough, I think I’ll try it!

    [Reply]

    Meg Reply:

    One more question, if you don’t mind…does it have to be vodka?
    I mean, why not tequilla? or rum?

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    I think you can use bourbon…otherwise I’m not sure. I don’t know anything about liquor! :)

  14. Benjamin says

    Why don’t they keep making this “Imitation vanilla extract” but call it “Spruce extract” instead, so that people actually know what they are consuming. To tell you the truth, I would totally put it in my food if it were called spruce extract!!!

    [Reply]

  15. Barrett says

    I really have no problem using purified paper pulp considering the other vanilla imitation options.

    Did you know that people also milk the anal musk glands from beavers to get imitation vanilla? Vile. Check it out for yourself.

    [Reply]

  16. Jon says

    It seems that the best chefs in the world could not distinguish between real and artificial vanilla when a double blind test was given. When 9 artificial vanilla samples and 1 genuine vanilla sample was placed 369 of the culinary experts only 38 picked the correct source. Which statistically is about one in ten the exact figure you would get from a wild guess.

    Its all vanilla but in a name. The chemistry is the same.

    [Reply]

    Laura Reply:

    It may taste similar, but it’s the ingredients that make me love my pure, homemade vanilla extract. :)

    [Reply]

  17. says

    Chemists don’t see things holistically when it comes to artificial colors and flavors. They assume everything is safe and continue doing their jobs. I used to have a friend that worked for Monsanto. She truly bought into the whole “better living through chemistry” and it caused friction between us.

    I prefer natural things, but I also like chemicals for cosmetics and the like. All in moderation. That said, making vanilla extract is freaking fun, and I like knowing what I am putting in and on my body so I can make my own decisions about them.

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  18. Mary says

    One problem with chemically synthesized products which end up having the same chemical formula as an equivalent natural product is that the chemically synthesized products are often treated with harmful components that leave a residual footprint in the finished synthesized product. The FDA thinks that as long as harmful ingredients are limited enough, they should be acceptable, but no consideration seems to be made regarding the many different sources of some of these ingredients by which the overall amount can add up to considerably more than the supposedly acceptable limit. Nor are long-range consequences taken into consideration, many of which are as yet not even known.

    I’ve heard it said that “sugar is sugar is sugar and the body doesn’t know the difference between the different types” — this said in justification of high fructose corn syrup. If this were true, why does the body react to and treat different sugars (sucrose, glucose, lactose, fructose, etc) differently. So can we be sure that the body doesn’t know the difference between synthetically derived and natural compounds?

    [Reply]

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