Vanilla Flavor and Edible Geography

Anyone interested in cuisine who has poked around the Internet has learned that there is a staggeringly huge number of food blogs out there! I’m certainly in favor of it in general, it’s made information about foods and their preparation accessible. You can type in the name of an ingredient or preparation and get an encyclopedia of information and opinions…not to mention photography ranging from too-beautiful to “what were they thinking?” but you can learn a lot. I certainly do.

dried-pod-loose-bundlePart of my reason for posting is to present an interesting food blog I came across in my research, Edible Geography, which is blowing me away in it’s thoroughness and energy in exploring a wide range of food-related topics. Looking for anything about vanilla on the site, I was brought to an article on vanilla flavoring that was a fascinating look at the kinds of vanilla flavoring available. Fake Cinnamon Joins Artificial Vanilla and Wins

We’ve learned, for instance, that an ingredient called “Natural Vanilla Flavor” will indeed have been made from vanilla, using one of several methods for extracting the natural vanillin (and other compounds) from vanilla pods. “Artificial vanilla flavor” is made from several different sources, but is all based on synthesizing vanillin, the chemical identified with vanilla flavor. In most taste tests, it seems artificial vanilla passes muster just fine, much to the dismay of the vanilla grower!

As a vanilla grower myself, I have a wide range of experience with the various aromatic phases of vanilla, I would wager there is considerable complexity to natural extracts that simply synthesizing one chemical constituent can’t match. Apparently, in practice, the difference is moot in most applications where vanilla is cooked and/or combined with other aromatics. Fortunately, taste and preference is more about perceptions than blind test results, so natural vanilla will always have the advantage of being the real thing. The FDA and FTC have not decided that deceptive labeling about vanilla will be allowed, although there are several kinds of artificial vanilla that can be labeled a “natural flavor” they just can’t be “natural vanilla flavor.”

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