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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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