When you think of a vanilla-flavored ice cream or baked treat, most people assume that the treat they are going to eat will be white or creamy in color. Go to any bakery shop and pick out a vanilla treat. You will see white frosting or cream-colored cake or filling.
Vanilla beans from nature are dark brown
The thing is, real vanilla beans are dark brown. Real vanilla extract is a liquid that is almost black in color. But dark brown is not what the average person in a bakery looking to purchase a vanilla cupcake is looking for.
People usually associate anything with a brown color in a bakery with chocolate flavor, and when thinking about what raw cocoa looks like, this makes sense. Raw cocoa beans are brown, so chocolate is also brown. But that would be confusing in the baking and treat world, to have both the classic flavors of chocolate and vanilla be the same color.
So vanilla was assigned another color/shade. This white color assignment that we associate to be vanilla is almost the complete opposite of its natural color. In order to get vanilla flavoring in icing or cake, and have it appear white, you must use a non-colored, clear vanilla extract or flavoring. This is called vanillin or clear vanilla extract, and it tastes very much like natural vanilla, though it is not extracted from the vanilla bean.
Natural vanilla beans are brown; vanilla confectionary treats are white
The vanilla bean is brown because it contains natural compounds called vanillins. These compounds are what give vanilla frosting its characteristic flavor and color. Artificial vanillin is used in frosting to achieve a similar flavor and color, so there’s no need for the frosting to be brown.
Frequently Asked Questions about clear vanilla extract (FAQ)
Bakers and culinary creators want to know all sorts of things about using clear vanilla extract. We picked the most commonly asked questions about the topic and answered them here.
What is the difference between vanilla extract and clear vanilla extract?
Clear vanilla extract, also referred to as vanillin, is the artificial cousin of genuine vanilla extract. It is more practical in baking due to it not imparting color when mixed into batters and icings. It is also slower to evaporate, and clear vanilla extract has a more potent flavor.
Is clear vanilla extract real?
If real is referring to vanilla made by nature, then no, clear vanilla extract does not come from nature. Clear vanilla extract is made by chemists. It is also referred to as crystal vanilla or vanillin. Genuine natural vanilla extract comes from vanilla beans, which are dark brown. This deep color would not be practical in baking, as it would color everything it is mixed into when the goal of vanilla baking is to impart a white or crème color.
What vanilla extract is clear?
1. Watkins Clear Vanilla Flavor Extract
2. McCormick Culinary Clear Imitation Vanilla Extract, 32 oz
3. Wilton W6042237 Imitation Clear Vanilla Extract, 2-Ounce
Every product has its purpose. If you are wanting to add vanilla flavor to a coffee beverage or banana bread where color doesn’t matter, use genuine vanilla extract.
If you are baking and need your vanilla icing to resemble traditional white vanilla frosting, use clear vanilla extract, or your white frosting may end up looking like chocolate or mocha frosting. It’s all about choosing the best vanilla for your culinary masterpiece!
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