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Questioning the Safety of the Use of Imitation Mexican Vanilla in Recipes

What is imitation Mexican vanilla

One of the most popular vanilla flavorings used in food is imitation Mexican vanilla, which is made from natural extracts and artificial ingredients such as vanillin, ethyl vanillin, alpha-methyl-vanillin, eugenol, and coumarin. It’s similar to real Mexican vanilla but with a slightly different taste.

It can be used in recipes that call for regular or pure Mexican vanilla because it has the same flavor without costing four times as much. In an article on The Kitchn website about why imitation Latin American vanilla smells different than real Mexican Vanilla despite being mostly synthetic flavors says that “the scents are there because of the chemicals. Just like a car and a building have different smells, there are chemicals that have scents to them.”

What is the problem with imitation Mexican vanilla

The biggest problem with imitation Mexican vanilla is that it can be toxic. Some people think this is impossible because a recipe says “Mexican Vanilla” but when they check the ingredients they only list natural extracts and artificial flavors, not artificial chemicals.

But in reality when you look at the ingredients of fake Mexican vanilla , you’ll find vanillin, ethyl vanillin, alpha-methyl-vanillin, eugenol, and coumarin among them. These are synthetic chemicals used to make imitation flavors that can be made with real or artificial sources of extracts.

This means a recipe that calls for “Mexican Vanilla” could actually be using fake Mexican vanilla since vanillin is only natural.

Some examples of recipes that use imitation vanilla include classic Mexican chocolate, homemade gourmet ice cream and baking mixes and even cake mixes, which can contain up to 10% of imitation Mexican vanilla.

A 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that among people with a history of migraines, those who used fake Mexican vanilla had double the risk they would have if they hadn’t used imitation Mexican vanilla.

Question: A few months ago I bought some vanilla in Mexico. I stopped using it when a friend told me that Mexican vanilla can be toxic. Is this true? The vanilla was such a great buy for a quart size that I couldn’t resist buying it.

When using Mexican vanilla, should it be used in different quantities from what is called for in recipes?

Answer: Indeed, Mexican vanilla is a great deal cheaper than the leading brand in this country, but only if it is the imitation product. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns that the long-term effect of ingesting imitation Mexican vanilla is toxic. The product contains coumarin, which has been banned by the FDA for about 31 years as a food additive. In the early 1950s, researchers found that coumarin caused liver damage when fed to rats.

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According to Juan San Mames, owner of Vanilla Imports in San Francisco, although only experts can tell the presence of coumarin through smell and color, there are easy indications to pinpoint imitation vanilla that contains the filler substance:

“Cost is indicative,” he said. “Imitation vanilla costs about $1.99 a quart, whereas true vanilla costs as high as $2.25 for an ounce here. When the label is in Spanish, it’s imitation. If the product is FDA regulated, the label has to be in English and its content specified. Pure vanilla extract uses 35% alcohol and 13.35 to 15 ounces vanilla bean per gallon of liquid.”

Coumarin is a dark substance produced by the tonka bean, indigenous to Mexico and a member of the pea family. Genuine vanilla beans from Mexico are produced from delicate orchid flowers, which are naturally pollinated (using melipona bees and hummingbirds) and hand pollinated. The rarity of the plant and the intricate process of cultivating, curing and drying make the price of the true vanilla bean and its extracts expensive.

Tainted samples were found in the following brands of Mexican vanilla: Molina, Exotle, Chila, Tropical, La Vencedora, Premier, Tropical World and Paisa.

To answer the second question about the amount to be used in recipes when using Mexican vanilla: If you do have the genuine Mexican vanilla, you should use less of it than the recipe calls for because it is stronger than the regularly available vanilla.

Q: I have two types of grape plants: the sweet green seedless and red seedless. Besides eating out of hand and making raisins, are there other ways to use the fruits?

I tried to make syrup and poured it over the grapes but the taste was not great. Any suggestions will be tried and appreciated.

A: Grapes can be served a number of ways. Try them in salads, using either tangy oil and vinegar dressing with ham or chicken, or a sour cream-type dressing in a fruit salad such as a Waldorf recipe. Have a grape cocktail with diced avocado and French dressing on butter lettuce. Or use halved or whole seedless grapes in a gelatin mold.

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For a quick dessert, try grape brulee by placing grapes in a shallow baking dish and covering with sour cream. Sprinkle all over with brown sugar and broil until cream and sugar become bubbly. Or dip clusters in melted chocolate and let set for a delicious snack or dessert.

When dipping grapes in hot sugar syrup (cooked to the hard-crack stage), add cinnamon, cloves or cardamom to flavor the syrup. Instead of pineapple, use grapes in upside down cake recipes, arranging grapes, cut side up, over nuts.

Grapes go well with chicken. Add them to any saucy chicken recipe about 15 minutes before serving or just long enough to heat them through. Or include them in a chicken filling for crepes. Last, but not least, is the ever popular idea of using them in jams and jellies. Check canning books for recipes.

Is Mexican vanilla extract safe?

In the grocery store, you’ll find Mexican vanilla extract near the other vanilla extracts. This product is called pure vanilla extract and the label will say “produced by Mexican vanilla” or something like that.

Mexican-made pure vanilla extract is authentic and legally made in Mexico. Mexican-made imitation pure vanilla extracts are any other flavors combined with vanillin (a synthetic flavor). These imitation products are not made in Mexico and not endorsed by the FDA because of their toxic ingredients.

If a recipe calls for “Mexican vanilla,” you can use either real Mexican-made pure vanilla extract or artificial vanillin-based imitation products.

Is Molina Mexican vanilla blend real vanilla?

Mexican vanilla extract is made from the Mexican vanilla bean and not the term “blend.” The “blend” you are referring to is a combination of lower-priced vanillin, which is an artificial flavor, and ethyl vanillin (which is a natural flavor).

The most important thing to remember about any brand of vanilla extract, including Molina Mexican Vanilla Blend, is to purchase one that has been certified by the International Vanilla Extract Council (IVEC). This seal on their carton will guarantee that their vanilla extract has been produced in compliance with stringent industry standards.

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Is Molina vanilla extract real?

Mexican vanilla extract is extracted from the ripe vanilla bean, and Molina Mexican Vanilla Extract is certified by the International Vanilla Consortium. It’s just as real as any other brand.

There are two different kinds of Molina soy products: one comes in liquid form, which has been certified kosher and pareve; and a powdered version made with a soy flour, which can be used to make creamer (instead of milk). Soy products are popular in Asian cuisine.

This product is so popular that it’s sold in grocery stores nationwide, in most health food stores and online.

Is Molina Mexican vanilla blend the same as pure vanilla extract?

Mexican vanilla extract is made from the vanilla bean, but Molina Mexican Vanilla Blend is a product that has been created by combining less expensive vanillin with an artificial flavor and ethyl vanillin (which is a natural flavor).

Molina Mexican Vanilla Blend is not pure vanilla extract, although both products have been certified kosher by the Orthodox Union. For more information about this product, visit www.molinafoods.com.

How many beans need to be frozen for vanilla extract?

No matter how much vanilla you’re making or where it’s going, here are the basics for freezing it. For any amount of extract, you can freeze in a freezer-safe container(s) up to 6 months.

1 oz. of vanilla will freeze up to 3 cups of liquid; 1 lb. will freeze 9 cups; 1 quart will freeze about 4 cups; 1 gallon will freeze about 8 cups (2 pints or 2/3 cup); and 5 pounds yields 24 cups or 2 quarts.

Mexican vanilla has a unique taste, unlike the regular variety of vanilla extract. Mexicans use vanilla powder as well as vanilla extract in their recipes. Mexican vanilla powder is a little stronger than the regular variety. Mexican cookbooks and recipes call for less vanilla powder or liquid in desserts, for example. The same advice applies when using Mexican vanilla or any brand of pure vanilla powder to make extracts: you will need less of it when making an extract than the recipe calls for because it is stronger than regular extracts. Other ingredients such as almond paste, prune juice and dried figs can also be used in pureed prune pudding, while almonds and whipped cream can be used in any fruit soup containing prunes.

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