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Is Alcohol in Vanilla Extract Harmful?

To be considered vanilla extract, it needs to have a certain amount of ethyl alcohol. Normally, vanilla extract is a very common and popular baking ingredient. It adds a delicious flavor to an assortment of baked products. It also enhances the flavors of other ingredients.

However, I found that some people drink it. Not a good idea.

Alcohol in vanilla extract is not harmful if vanilla extract, which contains at least 35% ethyl alcohol, is used for baking. It’s because its alcohol content evaporates at 173°F. However, drinking vanilla extract is a different story. One can get drunk from drinking four to five ounces of it.

Read on if you love making all sorts of baked masterpieces but are worried about your sobriety or your kids ending up getting alcohol.

A Quick Look at Vanilla Extract

Before anything else, let us get to know vanilla extract more. Despite being a well-loved baking ingredient, not too many people are familiar with it. As a matter of fact, many are surprised to learn that it has alcohol.

Vanilla extract is made from vanilla beans. It is extracted from vanilla beans using ethyl alcohol and water. The main flavor compound present in it is vanillin.

However, the vanilla extract contains other flavor compounds that amount to over 200. It’s because of this why vanilla extract can give any baked product a complex and deep flavor.

Madagascar, Mexican, Indonesian, Tahitian and Ugandan — these are the leading vanilla bean types used for making vanilla extract. Having high concentrations of vanillin is the reason why they are better than the rest.

It’s also possible to get vanilla extract from other vanilla bean types. However, the extract may not be that flavorful.

Most baking recipes require the use of vanilla extract. This is true for making cakes, cupcakes, brownies and cookies. Some desserts also call for the use of vanilla extract. Some examples are ice creams, custards and puddings. But aside from vanilla extract, you may also come across vanilla in other forms.

Let us take a quick look at the different vanilla products that you may use for baking…

Vanilla beans. Many serious bakers prefer to use whole vanilla beans. It doesn’t come as a surprise since the flavor compounds of vanilla beans remain intact and not washed out. However, using whole vanilla beans can take up more time in the kitchen than using vanilla extract.

Vanilla essence. Don’t let the name fool you. It’s true that it has “vanilla” in its name. However, vanilla essence is not made from vanilla beans. It is made from artificial ingredients that taste like vanilla. Due to this, it’s a lot cheaper. But just like vanilla extract, vanilla essence contains ethyl alcohol, too.

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Vanilla paste. Also sometimes called “vanilla bean paste”, vanilla paste is just like vanilla extract. That’s because it is also from vanilla beans. But as the name suggests, vanilla paste is thicker. It is similar to maple syrup. For baking, use the same amount of vanilla paste as you would vanilla extract.

Vanilla powder. As the name says, vanilla powder is vanilla that comes in powdered form. Pure vanilla powder is made by grinding vanilla beans. Some vanilla powder brands are out of vanilla extract whose liquid contents are removed. This means that they are alcohol-free.

Vanilla sugar. Put simply, vanilla sugar is sugar infused with vanilla beans. It can be used as a substitute for sugar when making all kinds of baked treats. Vanilla sugar comes in coarse and fine powder form. Besides baking, vanilla sugar can be used for sweetening foods and drinks.

Imitation vanilla. The name makes it clear that imitation vanilla does not contain vanilla. What it contains is crude oil. It also has artificial ingredients to make it look and taste like vanilla extract. However, it has a weaker and less complex flavor. By the way, about 98% of vanilla products contain imitation vanilla.

When it comes to baking, vanilla extract reigns supreme. It can make your baked creation taste awesome but without taking up lots of time. However, many are worried about the fact that it contains ethyl alcohol.

Why Does Vanilla Extract Have Alcohol

Vanilla extract has alcohol for two reasons. First, alcohol is great at getting vanillin and other flavor compounds from vanilla beans. Second, alcohol is a preservative. Alcohol is a good preservative that vanilla extract has an indefinite shelf life. However, it’s best to use it within five years.

The type of alcohol in vanilla extract is ethyl alcohol. Also called “ethanol”, ethyl alcohol is from sugar cane. It is the same alcohol found in alcoholic drinks such as whiskey, brandy and beer.

Ethyl alcohol is so effective at extracting compounds that it is also being used for making some types of essential oils. Plant materials such as petals, leaves and seeds are mixed with ethyl alcohol to release their oil content. This is why some essential oils are flammable.

Some common examples are…

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Lavender essential oil

Peppermint essential oil

Eucalyptus essential oil

Frankincense essential oil

Lemon essential oil

Clove essential oil

Tea tree essential oil

Needless to say, vanilla extract is flammable, too.

That’s because of its ethyl alcohol content. Make sure that you keep vanilla extract away from hot surfaces, sparks, and open flames. Otherwise, your house might burn down. However, as a baking ingredient, there is no need to worry. It’s because the vanilla extract is diluted with other ingredients.

What’s nice about ethyl alcohol is that it gives vanilla extract an impressive shelf life. Vanilla extract won’t go bad even if you do not refrigerate or freeze it. After all, it’s not a good idea to store it in the fridge or freezer.

However, if you want nothing but the best-tasting baked masterpiece, use vanilla extract before its use-by date arrives.

How Much Vanilla Extract is Too Much?

Drinking four to five ounces of vanilla extract is enough to make a person drunk. Vanilla extract, to be considered such by the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA), should be at least 35% alcohol. Some alcoholic drinks have a minimum of 35% alcohol as vanilla extract. They include brandy and vodka.

It’s true that you can get drunk from drinking a lot of vanilla extract. However, it is unlikely for you to get drunk from eating a slice of cake or a couple of cookies with vanilla extract. That’s because they have been cooked.

Earlier, it was mentioned that vanilla extract is flammable because it contains ethyl alcohol. What wasn’t mentioned is that ethyl alcohol in vanilla extract dries up when exposed to heat.

As a matter of fact, ethyl alcohol in vanilla extract dries up faster than the water content of the rest of the baking ingredients.

How Much Alcohol in One Teaspoon Vanilla Extract?

One teaspoon of vanilla extract contains 1.73 milliliters (0.058 ounces) of ethyl alcohol. Vanilla extract contains not less than 35% ethyl alcohol. In other words, 35% of any amount of vanilla extract is ethyl alcohol. One teaspoon of vanilla extract is equivalent to 4.93 milliliters (0.17 ounces).

When it comes to determining the amount of ethyl alcohol you will consume when you use vanilla extract as a baking ingredient, it’s not just the amount of vanilla extract you will use that should be taken into account.

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It is also important that you consider the amount of the rest of the ingredients. For instance, if you are not going to eat the entire baked product, you will not get all of the ethyl alcohol present in the vanilla extract added. That is, if there’s any ethyl alcohol left. Again, the alcohol content of vanilla extract dries up at 173°F.

Is vanilla extract harmful?

Eating or drinking vanilla extract is not the same as drinking alcohol. The same way you can drink vanilla extract without worrying about getting drunk, you can eat baked goods with it and not be worried about getting drunk.

However, if you are pregnant, it’s best to avoid consuming baked goods that contain vanilla extract due to its alcohol content. As mentioned earlier, ethyl alcohol dries up when exposed to heat. However, it does not go away 100%.

As for non-pregnant individuals like me, eating a slice of cake or two cookies with vanilla extract is okay provided that the rest of your diet is healthy.

Can you take shots of vanilla extract?

If you are looking to have fun, vanilla extract is one way to go. After all, it has a kick that can get your buzz going. However, you shouldn’t take shots of vanilla extract for the following reasons:

It contains alcohol. Consuming alcoholic drink and taking shots on a frequent basis may lead to developing an addiction for alcohol. This means that you may develop tolerance for ethyl alcohol and require more each time to achieve the desired effect.

You are at risk of developing an alcohol dependency. However, there is no such thing as an “alcohol dependency” in the same way there is a “sugar addiction” or “salt addiction” . It is not safe to take shots of vanilla extract in large doses. Taking such doses may result in alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal.

Is Vanilla Harmful?

Vanilla extract is not harmful when you eat it as a dessert ingredient in baked goods and other food products. This is because the rest of the ingredients used in the recipe will protect you from drinking or eating too much vanilla extract. You would not be able to get drunk from consuming it.

As you can see, vanilla extract is one of the best-tasting substances in the world. It is a versatile ingredient used in baking and other culinary creations. No wonder it continues to be popular since its discovery. However, there are so many people who are unaware of this ingredient’s potential health benefits. Besides being a powerful antioxidant, it has analgesic, anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.