Vanilla Essence vs. Vanilla Extract – What’s the Difference?

Pure vanilla extract, vanilla flavoring, imitation vanilla… what’s the difference? Can they be used interchangeably in recipes? Is one better than another? Here’s the lowdown on this sweet-smelling pantry staple.

Pure Vanilla Extract

Vanilla beans are expensive, retailing in some specialty shops for as much as $2 to $3 each. The price of pure vanilla extract is also high, but this can vary due to the quality of the beans used to make it. The best vanilla beans are the products of orchids that grow only in tropical climates. Beware of “pure” vanilla extract that seems unusually cheap. If the bargain seems to be too good to be true, it’s probably an adulterated extract or the beans were of poor quality.


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Pure vanilla extract must contain 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon during extraction. The extract must be 35 percent alcohol to meet FDA standards.1 These are the minimum requirements. Additional alcohol content is allowed and results in a deeper, richer flavor.

By FDA definition, a “pure” extract means that the vanilla flavor can only come from vanilla beans and nothing else.1 This factor draws a definitive line between pure extract and imitation vanilla, but it relates only to the vanilla flavor and doesn’t necessarily mean that nothing other than vanilla beans contributed to the overall product. It’s not uncommon to find vanilla extracts that contain a little sugar or corn syrup, and this is perfectly legal because neither contributes to that vanilla taste.

Pure vanilla extract that has no added sugar or corn syrup will last forever, aging like a fine liqueur. The older the extract, the better it becomes, losing any bitterness even without the help of added sweeteners.

You can make vanilla extract at home by soaking fresh vanilla beans in vodka or another neutral-flavored liquor. Simply split the beans, scrape the gooey seeds into the container, then cover it, pods and all, with your spirit of choice. It takes about two months for the extract to mature.

Imitation Vanilla Extract

Imitation vanilla is made from artificial flavorings, which isn’t surprising. What might raise your eyebrows is that most of these artificial flavorings come from wood byproducts, and those byproducts can contain chemicals. People with discerning palates usually find that imitation vanilla products have a harsh quality with a slightly bitter aftertaste.

If you’re tempted to substitute imitation vanilla for pure vanilla extract in a recipe, you will need twice as much imitation vanilla flavoring to match the strength of pure vanilla extract, but this comes with a risk. Imitation vanilla is typically made with synthetic vanillin extracted from wood pulp, so you forgo the gentle vanilla hint that you’d get with the real deal when you opt for imitation. In other words, pure vanilla extract packs more into less. This might be okay if the focus of the recipe isn’t its vanilla flavoring; otherwise, you’ll probably want to spend more for pure vanilla extract.

Vanilla Flavoring

Vanilla flavoring is usually a combination of imitation vanilla and pure vanilla extract. It’s cheap, but that may be the best that can be said for it.

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There’s no flavour in the world quite like vanilla. It’s rich, creamy and warm, and impossible to imagine baking without it. But when it comes to adding vanilla to your recipe, which vanilla do you choose?

You’re certainly not alone if you’re a little confused by the difference between vanilla extract and essence. Is it real, is it stronger, how is it made? These are just a few of the questions we get asked on a regular basis. So, how do you wade through the choices and choose the right vanilla for your baking?

With nearly 120 years of experience in vanilla, from growing and curing to extracting and bottling, we are here to share our knowledge and hopefully make things a little less confusing next time you’re shopping (or baking!).

So what’s the difference between the two? Given the two products are often talked about as if they’re the same thing, it can get a bit confusing. In general, extract is a natural product, whereas essence is synthetic. As a result, you will usually find that extract is less processed and provides a stronger and more pure vanilla flavour when compared to essence.

Vanilla extract is usually made by soaking vanilla pods in alcohol and water – with flavour taken up by the liquid ingredients

Vanilla essence is a synthetic – so it’s made using artificial flavours and colours

Since it’s manufactured, you will often find vanilla essence contains very little or no real vanillin. As a result, it’s sometimes high in additional additives (e.g. colouring, flavouring, sweeteners, preservatives.

How are vanilla essence and extract made?

Queen Organic Vanilla Essence and Natural Vanilla Extract are both made with our traditional and time-honoured methods by extracting vanilla from carefully selected organic beans. With nothing artificial added, these products are 100% natural and perfect for an extensive selection of recipes.

Both our extract and essence are created using the highest quality pure vanilla beans. Both products are rich and thick with a strong vanilla flavour and aroma. While our natural extract is ideal for non-bake recipes, our organic vanilla extract-essence is perfect for everyday cakes, slices and batter-based recipes.

Queen Organic Vanilla Essence-Extract Ingredients

Extract of Pure Organic Vanilla Beans

[Water, Organic Alcohol (35% vol.), Organic Vanilla Bean Extractives]

Organic Sugar

Queen Natural Vanilla Extract Ingredients

Invert Sugar Syrup (from cane sugar)

Glucose Syrup (Corn)


Extract of Pure Vanilla Beans


Preservative (202)

Contains alcohol (<1% by vol.)

At Queen, Natural Vanilla Essence is Vanilla Extract

Our original Queen vanilla recipe was established in the early 1900s and was called ‘Vanilla Essence – Extract of Vanilla Beans’. Historically, the term ‘Essence’ meant a highly concentrated form of pure extract. If you look closely at one of our very old labels, the ingredients are alcohol, sugar, flavour (extract of vanilla beans), water added. As the name suggests, vanilla extract is extracted from real vanilla bean pods by macerating vanilla beans in a mixture of alcohol and water.

This recipe became the signature Queen blend that is now our iconic ‘red label’ bottle ‘Natural Organic Vanilla Essence’.

History has paved the way

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If vanilla essence is a true vanilla extract, why do we still call it vanilla essence? The word ‘essence’ has been kept on the label over the decades as many old and loved Australian recipes call for it. It’s that simple!

With the passing of time, modern recipes started to call for simply vanilla ‘extract’ and so we added the words ‘flavouring extract’ to the label to reassure Aussie bakers that Queen Natural Organic Vanilla Essence is indeed the real deal. So, Queen Natural Vanilla Essence is Vanilla Extract.

Taking a journey back into our long vanilla history, even our old print ads featured our pure, natural vanilla essence. Aren’t they wonderfully retro! Here’s a few of our old bottles too, do you have any of these at home? We’d love to see them!

So there you have it, next time you’re baking with a family recipe that has been passed down through generations, you can smile knowing that the vanilla ‘essence’ your recipe calls for is Queen Vanilla Essence after all! And it’s a perfectly natural vanilla extract (even if it is a little old-fashioned!).

Which is better vanilla extract or vanilla flavor?

Vanilla flavour is a product which is blended from vanilla extract and various other ingredients such as sugar, flavoring, colorants or antioxidants that are added to make the flavour more appealing. Along with sugar and alcohol, vanilla flavour manufacturers often add artificial sweeteners such as cyclamates, saccharin or aspartame; which make the taste sweeter without raising blood sugar levels.

Vanilla extract itself contains no harsh chemicals and natural sugars (the essence contains only the sugars that are present in the vanilla bean), it is naturally derived and therefore considered healthier than flavoured extracts. Vanilla extract is the purest form of vanilla flavour, and the one you should opt for to ensure that you are baking a truly natural product.

Why choose Queen Vanilla over artificial vanilla?

VANILLA EXTRACT vs. VANILLA FLAVOUR? It’s a question we hear time and time again. Simple: because it’s very different to what you might expect. Vanilla extract is not an artificial vanilla flavour, rather it is made by soaking vanilla pods in alcohol and water for months. This process extracts the goodness from the seeds inside each pod, resulting in a deliciously fragrant, concentrated liquid with how-can-it-be-natural deliciousness.

INFOGRAPHIC: How to buy vanilla extract

Are you searching for a natural vanilla flavouring? Then Queen Organic Vanilla Essence is the product you are looking for! Check the following infographic to find out why Queen Organic Vanilla Extract is a natural product that is free of chemicals, artificial flavours and dyes.

What is the difference between extract and flavoring?

The simple answer is the vanilla beans are the difference, but there’s more to it than that. Vanilla extract is created by infusing natural vanilla pods into a mixture of alcohol and water that yields an extract that is intensely fragrant and rich in flavor. Vanilla flavouring, on the other hand, contains artificial ingredients such as sugar and alcohol, flavourings and dyes which may or may not be derived from natural products.

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Is vanilla Flavouring the same as vanilla essence?

Vanilla flavouring is a product that is blended from vanilla extract and various other ingredients such as sugar, flavours, colourants or antioxidants that are added to make the flavour more appealing. Along with sugar and alcohol, vanilla flavouring manufacturers often add artificial sweeteners such as cyclamates, saccharin or aspartame; which make the taste sweeter without raising blood sugar levels. Vanilla flavouring itself contains no harsh chemicals and natural sugars (the flavouring contains only the sugars that are present in the vanilla bean), it is naturally derived and therefore considered healthier than artificial extracts.

Is vanilla extract a flavoring?

Vanilla extract is not an artificial vanilla flavouring, rather it is made by infusing natural vanilla pods in a mixture of alcohol and water that yields an extract that is intensely fragrant and rich in flavour.

Is there any difference between Vanilla Essence and Vanilla Extract?

The difference lies in the extraction process: Vanilla essence contains the purest form of vanilla, natural sugars and alcohol, whereas vanilla extract contains artificial flavourings. The Natural Organic Vanilla Extract available at Queen stores uses all-natural ingredients; but is not as concentrated as our Natural Organic Vanilla Essence which has a more concentrated flavour. Both products can be diluted for making cupcakes, cakes or ice cream.

Is all vanilla extract the same?

No. The quality of the vanilla extract you buy can be different depending on how much vanilla beans were used to make it, how long it was aged and whether or not any artificial ingredients were added.

What does organic mean for my food?

Organic products are produced with minimal human interference, which is better for the environment and healthier for your family, as no harmful chemicals have been added.

Organic producers aim to use natural ingredients, such as fruit, vegetables and grains. Queen Organics – our range of all-natural foods – are produced without the use of artificial colours, synthetic flavours, preservatives or high fructose corn syrup.

Can I use imitation vanilla instead of vanilla extract?

No. When making a vanilla icing or pudding, you can use imitation vanilla instead of extract but it will affect the taste and appearance of your recipe. We always recommend using pure, natural vanilla extract as artificial vanilla flavouring is not only unnatural, but can also be harmful to your health.

Do organic products taste different?

Queen Organic foods are produced without the use of artificial colours, synthetic flavours or preservatives. They are made with naturally raised grains (eg: wheat) and farmed animal components (such as eggs and milk). The result is an elevated level of taste, colour, texture and nutrition for your family.

As with any of the products mentioned, ensure it is organic vanilla; with less ingredients and more taste. Read the ingredients list, if you don’t understand what it means then don’t buy. “Pure” is not always equal to “quality”. If you do decide to buy a Vanilla essence or Vanilla Extract remember not to dilute it when making cakes, ice cream or cupcakes; as this will make the taste much weaker and could result in your recipe not working properly.

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