Traditional Vs. Pure Vanilla

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but in recent months there has been a large vanilla shortage which has driven up the price considerably.

Vanilla is not just an ice cream topping, but is in fact used to create many other scrumptious treats including things like cakes, cookies, creams, and various desserts.

This blog post will help us explore the available options for sourcing vanilla extract. We will start by looking at two different companies- McCormick Pure Vanilla Extracts and Trader Joe’s pure ground Spanish vanilla- before coming to a conclusion about which one tastes better.

Be warned: I am a very biased person.

McCormick Pure Vanilla Extracts

This is the brand my dad always used to buy. The bottle is big and orange and you always know exactly what you’re getting from it. They now sell a variety of different extracts with interesting names, like pure vanilla extract, pure vanilla bean extract and pure Madagascar bourbon vanilla bean extract. These extracts all contain the same ingredient, which is distilled vanilla beans (or actual bourbon beans, if you’re lucky enough to be able to buy that). These extracts are not sold as ‘pure’, but rather as ‘vanilla’.

The McCormick website claims that their vanilla is the number one selling brand in the United States and is “an ideal blend of sweeteners, flavorings and natural vanilla beans to produce a rich, smooth flavor”. However, if you look at the actual ingredients on the bottle you will notice that they list


Corn Syrup Solids.

Vegetable Glycerin.I assume this means vegetable glycerin (grape seed extract) and not peanut glycerin since McCormick also makes peanut extract that uses corn syrup solids- I’m not sure why they would do this if they were going to use vegetable glycerin.

Natural and Artificial Flavors.

After you’ve mixed this concoction together with water it still probably won’t taste as good as pure vanilla extract. I say this from experience because every real vanilla cake I’ve created has been based on a recipe that calls for McCormick Vanilla Extract and it’s not nearly as good as the cakes where I use pure vanilla extract. Of course everyone has different tastes, so you might find the McCormick brand to be far superior to anything else available, but there is only one way to know for sure.

Trader Joe’s Pure Ground Spanish Vanilla Beans Ground in No Sugar Added Organic Cane Sugar Syrup.

The bottle is very similar to McCormick’s and is also orange, but the ingredients are a little different. I will quote the Trader Joe’s website:

“This naturally sweetened pure vanilla bean extract has been made with a special blend of rich, sweet organic cane sugar syrup, made from sugar cane grown in Puerto Rico, and the finest natural ingredient – vanilla beans grown in Madagascar.”

The ingredients (again) are listed as pure vanilla extract. Instead of listing corn syrup solids they now list “organic cane sugar syrup”, which should mean either saccharose or evaporated cane juice. The pure vanilla extract listed on the bottle also contains corn starch…the kind used for corn bread and pancakes. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather use pure extracts that do not contain any corn products.

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I’m not saying that the McCormick brand is evil, but I am saying that their extracts are more likely produced in an unnatural and less efficient way. Traditionally, people just used vanilla beans and alcohol to extract the flavor of the bean. Nowadays, they use a combination of both alcohol and organic cane sugar syrup to create the extract. There is also an additional ingredient called guar gum (which makes it non-GMO). The guar gum helps increase viscosity so that the extract doesn’t separate when refrigerated.

The question we get all the time is…

“What is the difference between the Traditional & Pure Mexican Vanilla?”

Which is then followed by…

“Which should I purchase?”

Ok, let us clarify.  Our Traditional Mexican vanilla is more typical of a really good vanilla that you buy when you visit Mexico. It has 10% alcohol and a small amount (less than 1%) of vanillin (which is a naturally occurring vanillin, not synthetic). The vanillin helps hold the flavor and gives the vanilla a very rich, smooth flavor. Also the less alcohol makes the vanilla much more versatile. The Traditional Mexican vanilla can be used for anything that calls for vanilla; anything from french toast, smoothies, homemade ice cream, whip cream, cookies, cakes, oatmeal, etc, etc.

The primary difference between the Traditional and the Pure is the amount of alcohol in the vanilla. According to US FDA regulations, in order to be labeled “pure” a vanilla extract must have 35% alcohol (FDA 21CFR169.3).

Our Pure Mexican vanilla contains this higher 35% alcohol content, and is therefore best utilized in those items which require high heat, such as baking. This allows much of the alcohol to cook out.

Both the Traditional & Pure Mexican Vanillas are all natural, produced in Mexico using only the highest grade, single sourced, Mexican vanilla beans. Our Mexican vanilla is never blended with another grade or type of bean – it is the absolute best vanilla available in Mexico. The Canosa family, who produces our vanilla exclusively, has been winning the Gold Medal of Honor award in Mexico for 30 years running. It simply is the best!

Our Traditional Mexican Vanilla is a top pick of Traditional Home Magazine’s Cooking School, and was also featured on Martha Stewart’s Cup Cake Show.

Is Mexican vanilla stronger than regular vanilla?

The answer is yes, but not because it contains more vanillin. Mexican vanilla does contain more vanillin than regular vanilla, which will make it taste stronger. Mexican vanilla contains about 4-6% vanillin. Pure vanilla extract only contains .8-2% vanillin and is considered 35% alcohol by volume (abv). The 35% abv of our Pure Mexican Vanilla gives you the strongest flavor in a standard baking application.

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In order to achieve the same flavor in a recipe as when you use our Pure Mexican Vanilla you would need to increase the amount of regular vanilla extract used in your recipe by 25%.

I’ve had a lot of people ask me if they can use a higher amount of regular vanilla in the same amount of Mexican Vanilla. The rule of thumb is that you can add 25% regular vanilla to a recipe that calls for Mexican vanilla, but it will not create a 50% increase in flavor.

You would need to double the recipe (If all you are adding is 1 tbs, add 2 tbs) and then also be sure to take into consideration the fact that all liquids expand when heated, so your recipe will result in more volume. Also try to be sure your ingredients are at room temperature when using more regular vanilla extract.

Can I use Mexican vanilla in a frosting or icing?

Yes, you can use our Mexican vanilla in a frosting or icing. However, if your recipe calls for milk or water and you are going to be making it for the first time, it’s best to try it out with the milk and water added. If your recipe already uses milk or water as an ingredient, adding more is not going to change the flavor much.

Does Mexican vanilla extract taste different?

The taste of a pure vanilla extract will be more complex, rich and full than a regular vanilla extract. In our pure vanilla extract the Mexican vanilla bean has been ground up into very small particles. This forces more flavor from the beans and we get a more intense flavor than most extracts. Mexican vanilla is also richer because it contains more of the condensed vanillin in it (vanillin is the chemical that gives sugar its sweet taste).

Can I use Mexican vanilla in baked goods and treats?

Yes, you can use our Pure Mexican Vanilla Extract in anything that calls for vanilla. It has a complex, rich, smooth and delicious taste that adds sweetness to everything. You can use our Mexican vanilla in homemade ice cream, cookies, cakes, oatmeal, french toast and more.

How do I use Mexican Vanilla in cold drinks?

You can add some to iced coffee either before or after you pour it over ice. You can also add a teaspoon to your favorite smoothie recipe or any cold drink that you would like to add flavor to. For best results the extract should be at room temperature before you add it.

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What is Mexican vanilla extract?

Pure Mexican Vanilla Extract is a sugar free vanilla extract with 35% alcohol. It has a smooth and rich flavor. It contains real Mexican vanilla beans that have been processed in the traditional way throughout Mexico to create a premium, all natural extract. It has been tested by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety and quality.

How much is the price?

It varies on where you buy it. The price range of Pure Mexican vanilla extract on Amazon is $22.95 for a 1 liter bottle, and $59.95 for a 20 ounce bottle. At the moment we are selling it for less than $17.00 per 473ml of extract (1 liter). For comparison, this amount of extract equal to 34 teaspoons and comes in a convenient 473ml glass bottle in an easy to find 8 oz size. Each of our boxes will hold over 544ml (2-1/2 quarts) of extract which is more than enough to make many recipes at least 6 times .

What is the difference between “pure” and “natural?”

The FDA classifies Vanilla Extract as a natural flavor, and since it is a natural product it must be called “pure.” The FDA does not require that any particular type of vanilla be used in an extract, however many companies use “synthetic” or some kind of “imitation vanilla” to make an extract. We do not use synthetic vanillin or any imitation vanilla because we believe that extracts should contain real vanilla beans, which are the source of vanillin.

Why is Costco vanilla so expensive?

Costco Pure Mexican Vanilla Extract is priced according to the cost of the ingredients and production which a small premium. Factoring in the packaging, labor, and shipping then our price is very competitive.

Is Mexican vanilla different from Caribbean vanilla?

Mexican and Caribbean vanilla beans are virtually the same. Mexico has been the dominant producer of vanilla beans since 1880, and there is little difference in taste, quality or price between Mexican and Caribbean vanilla. The main difference lies in the packaging and where they come from. Mexican beans are more likely to be packaged in small plastic bottles instead of glass and will be from Mexico whereas the Caribbean version is most likely to be packaged in glass bottles from Puerto Rico.

Is Mexican vanilla cheaper than regular vanilla?

It really depends on where you are buying it from. Pure Mexican Vanilla Extract is priced according to the cost of raw materials, production, packaging and shipping which can vary from brand to brand.

Mexican vanilla is a new flavor that has been around for a very short period of time so you will not want to jump into your recipes totally blind. If you are new to Mexican vanilla, start off with small amounts and work your way up. Be sure to use regular vanilla extract as well, then when the Mexican vanilla flavors are fully developed you can then add some more of our pure Mexican Vanilla Extract and make it into 50% more of the same flavor.

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