Vanilla Vs. Vanillin | What’s The Difference? 6 Types

Natural Pioneers Vanilla vs vanillin whats the difference

Vanilla vs. vanillin: What’s the difference? This question was bugging me for too long. This article will clear up all confusion and provide you with all you need to know about vanilla and vanillin.

Vanillin is a compound of vanilla. Vanilla consists of over 200 flavor compounds. We recognize the compound vanillin as vanilla’s primary taste. Cured vanilla pods contain about 2% vanillin. Vanilla is found in pure vanilla extract, paste & flavor. Synthetic vanillin is used in imitation vanilla.

Let’s start with vanilla, then look at vanillin, and finally define their differences.

1. What Is Natural Vanilla?

Natural vanilla comes in many names:

Bourbon Vanilla, Common Vanilla, Madagascar Vanilla, Mexican Vanilla, Réunion Vanilla, Tahitian Vanilla, Tahiti Vanilla, Vainilla, Vanilla planifolia, Vanilla tahitensis, Vanille, Vanille Bourbon, Vanille de Bourbon, Vanille de Madagascar, Vanille du Mexique, Vanille de Tahiti, Vanillin.

Natural vanilla is made from vanilla beans which grow on the vanilla plant.

Vanilla consists of 200 unique flavor compounds. It is the variety of molecules that gives vanilla it’s complex, multi-faceted flavor. Vanilla is a well-known flavoring, it is also used to reduce the amount of sugar needed for sweetening.

Fun fact: Vanilla is also used as an aphrodisiac to increase sexual desire.

Vanillin is the one principal flavor and aroma compound in vanilla. Cured and dried vanilla pods contain about 2% vanillin. On cured pods of high quality, relatively pure vanillin is sometimes visible as a white dust or “frost” on the exterior of the pod.

At the time the vanilla pods are harvested, they have no smell or taste.

Only after months of curing and processing, the pods have developed their characteristic flavor and fragrance.

Natural Pioneers Vanilla vs vanillin whats the difference Curing vanilla beans in four steps

Curing | A 4-step-process:

  1. Boiling: Vanilla pods are boiled in water. After the boiling process, the beans are dark, oily and pliable.
  2. Drying: The vanilla pods are now dried on bamboo tables in the sun for around ten weeks until they have shrunk to about 20 percent of their original size.
  3. Sorting: The sorting process grades each vanilla pod depending on size and quality.
  4. Storing: 1-2 months of storing time allows the pods to reach their peak flavor and fragrance.

Cured vanilla is very dark brown, slender, pleated and about eight inches long.

After vanilla has been cured and dried, it can be stored for 10 years and more if it is periodically dried to prevent the growing of mold.

75% of the vanilla pods grown in Madagascar and exported to mostly the United States and Europe.

Conclusion: Natural vanilla is made from the cured beans of the vanilla plant. Freshly harvested pods are taste and odorless. A lengthy curing process allows the developments of vanilla’s flavor and fragrance. Vanilla flavor consists of a variety of molecules which make up the complex, multi-faceted flavor, called vanilla!

Natural vanilla health benefits aroma flavor compounds beans are tasteless curing

Homemade Vanilla Bean Paste

Real, whole vanilla beans are one of the most expensive spices in any cupboard. When buying vanilla bean pods, they should look glossy on the outside, bend a little when touched and be as plump as possible. Desiccated, dull, or brittle-looking vanilla pods make it too hard to scrape out the inside.

Natural vanilla bean pods should be stored at room temperature away from heat or sunlight, like in a cupboard. Products made of natural vanilla beans often show as tiny black flecks of vanilla bean seeds dispersed throughout the food.

One scraped vanilla bean pod is equivalent to about 3 teaspoons vanilla extract.

How to scrape out a vanilla bean pod


  • Cutting board
  • Paring knife


  1. Split the vanilla bean down its length with a paring knife.
  2. Scrape out the seeds: Hold down the tip of the bean against the cutting board. Use the dull side of your paring knife and scrape the vanilla beans from the pod one half at a time.
  3. The scraped-out pods can be used to infuse milk or cream with vanilla flavor.

Price Of Home-Made Vanilla Bean Paste

One vanilla pod costs around 7.99 USD at common grocery stores. One scraped vanilla pod is equal to 3 teaspoons of pure vanilla extract.

Natural Pioneers Vanilla vs vanillin whats the difference Price Cost of Pure vanilla flavor vanilla extract imitation vanilla vanilla bean paste whole vanilla pod USD

Store-Bought Vanilla Bean Paste

Store-bought vanilla bean paste features the scraped seeds of a vanilla bean pod, supplemented by a syrupy sugar-water combo and a thickening agent. Vanilla bean paste has a consistency similar to maple syrup and is thicker than vanilla extract.

Like homemade scraped vanilla pods, it’s flecked with real vanilla bean seeds, that will be visible in your creations.

Price Of Store-Bought Vanilla Bean Paste

Store-bought vanilla bean paste is less expensive than scraping a vanilla bean pod at home.

2 oz vanilla bean paste costs 4.99 USD at Trader Joe’s.

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“Pure” Vanilla Extract

Vanilla extract is made by soaking split vanilla beans in a solution of ethanol and water. Over time, the alcohol absorbs the flavor compounds of the vanilla beans and preserves them, leaving the extract highly flavorful and shelf-stable.

Pure vanilla extract must contain 13.35% vanilla bean extractives, 35% alcohol, and the balance in distilled water per gallon (according to the US Standard of Identity).

Far less than 1% of vanilla extracts or essences sold throughout Mexico and the Americas are pure vanilla extract or pure vanilla flavor. 99% of sold vanilla extracts are synthetic products which cannot be labeled “pure” vanilla extract.

Pure vanilla extract is usually made from Grade B vanilla beans.

  • Grade A: 15 cm and longer; 100–120 fruits per pound; “Gourmet” or “Prime”; 30–35% moisture content.
  • Grade B: 10–15 cm; 140–160 fruits per pound; “Extract fruits”; 15–25% moisture content.
  • Grade C: 10 cm

Price Of Pure Vanilla Extract

2 fl oz of McCormick pure vanilla extract costs 13.99 USD at Ralph’s.

Vanilla Extract

Whereas “pure vanilla extract” consists of the 3 ingredients alcohol, vanilla bean extractives and water  (required by the FDA), “vanilla extract” contains additional ingredients which don’t allow the use of the term “pure”.

Unlike pure vanilla extract, products labeled “vanilla extract” may additionally contain: Glycerin, propylene glycol, sugar (including invert sugar), dextrose, and corn syrup (including dried corn syrup). [1]

Is vanilla extract the same as vanilla syrup?

No. According to the FDA Administration, “pure vanilla extract” consists of 35% ethyl alcohol, and 13.35 oz of vanilla beans per gallon. “Vanilla extract” may additionally contain: Glycerin, propylene glycol, sugar, dextrose, and/or corn syrup. “Vanilla syrup” is a water-based sugar solution, flavored with natural or synthetic vanilla. [2]; [3]

Price Of Vanilla Extract

2 fl oz of Organic Madagascar vanilla extract costs 7.99 USD at Ralph’s.

Natural Pioneers Vanilla Extract Pure Extract Imitation Vanilla Bean Paste Scraped Vanilla Bean Price Cost Vanilla Flavor Sugar-free added-sugar Keto Natural synthethic artificial

Pure Vanilla Flavor

This might sound like a synthetic product, but it is actually a natural one.

Pure vanilla flavor is made with vanilla bean extractives, but unlike pure vanilla extract, without alcohol. Propylene glycol is the most common carrier used for producing the flavor.

Pure vanilla flavor cannot be labeled “extract” due to the lack of alcohol.

Price Of Pure Vanilla Flavor

4 fl oz of pure vanilla flavor costs 8.99 USD at Trader Joe’s.

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Benefits Of Natural Vanilla

#1 Antioxidant benefits of vanilla

Vanillin is a powerful antioxidant against free radicals. Antioxidants have the potential to protect against various degenerative diseases – like cancer – caused by oxidative damage. [4]; [5]; [6]

#2 Anti-depression benefits of vanilla

Vanilla has been commonly used as a home remedy from the 17th century for treating anxiety and depression. However, only now science is able to find proof: Vanillin at the dosage of 100mg/kg has demonstrated antidepressant activity in mice, which is comparable with fluoxetine, commercially known by the brand name Prozac. Vanillin offers an alternative without uncomfortable side effects. Check with your doctor before switching from prescribed antidepressants to vanilla extract as treatment. [7]

#3 Anti-anxiety benefits of vanilla

Research shows that compared to humidified air alone, the administration of a fragrance with a vanilla-like scent reduced reported anxiety in patients undergoing MRI for cancer screening by 63%. This might be dues to vanilla’s calming, sweet and pleasing aroma. [8]

#4 Anti-tumor benefits of vanilla

As a natural bioactive product, vanillin shows proven anti-tumor action, and therapeutic potential in cancer treatment and prevention. [9]

#5 Antibacterial benefits of vanilla

The health benefits of vanilla include antibacterial properties, which may help prevent infection. The application of vanilla essential oil to medical devices inhibited the growth of specific bacterial cells. [10]

2. Imitation Vanilla: Vanillin


Vanillin is the one molecule in over 500 that plays the key role in the vanilla flavor profile. To make vanilla more affordable, it’s key flavor component vanillin is produced synthetically.

Imitation vanilla is synthetic vanillin made in a laboratory. If the product is clear, it’s 100% synthetic vanillin. If you find it in a more caramel color, it has usually been dyed with caramel color and sugar.

More than 99% of sold vanilla extracts or essences sold throughout Mexico, and the Americas consist of synthetic vanillin. Synthetic vanillin delivers nearly 30 times the strength.

Usually, synthetic vanilla products contain sugar and other ingredients, some of which may be considered carcinogenic (cancer-causing) in the U.S.


Ethylvanillin is an artificial molecule, it does not appear in nature. Ethylvanillin is a lot stronger in flavor than vanillin. Therefore, when using ethylvanillin even less of the molecule is required to get the same intensity of vanillin flavor. Products using ethyvanillin are often labeled “double-strength” imitation vanilla.

Price Of Imitation Vanilla

8 fl oz of imitation vanilla flavor costs 1.49 USD at Ralph’s.

3. Vanilla Vs. Vanillin | The Difference

Vanillin is a compound of vanilla. Vanilla consists of over 200 flavor compounds. We recognize the compound vanillin as vanilla’s primary taste. Cured vanilla pods contain about 2% vanillin. Vanilla is found in pure vanilla extract, paste & flavor. Synthetic vanillin is used in imitation vanilla.

Vanilla vs. Vanillin | Which Is Better?

At Natural Pioneers, we like to keep things as natural as possible. Therefore, we recommend using real scraped vanilla bean pods or pure vanilla extract.

When vanilla extract is heated to high temperatures, the majority of flavor molecules in vanilla seem to break down. Thus, for baking and there isn’t a noticeable difference and a less expensive, synthetic option like imitation vanilla might be a better fit if you’re on a budget.

For the best vanilla products, choose pure vanilla extracts that are organic and have no added sugar.