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I bought a natural vanilla extract, but it had a strong aroma somewhat like spirit or what you get in almond essence? Is that normal? I've only used artificial vanilla so far and they smell really pleasant and warm and wonderful.

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"Pure vanilla extract is made by macerating and percolating vanilla beans in a solution of ethyl alcohol and water."

[Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanilla_extract]

There is alcohol in it, that's why it smells like it has alcohol in it :)

So it is perfectly normal.

Personally, I find extracts and essences of vanilla to be a complete waste. To get that lovely vanilla smell and vanilla taste, add vanilla beans. To combat the relative high cost of vanilla beans, buy in bulk and store correctly, your vanilla beans can last for ages.

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Thanks. Yes I would consider buying vanilla beans in bulk! –  voddy Aug 18 at 6:01
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I disagree with the vanilla bean > vanilla extract part, but this is not the place for an extended discussion. Just wanted to mention that this is not the only way to view the matter. –  rumtscho Aug 18 at 6:28
    
@rumtscho if you have a minute, I'd like to hear about it? Now that I think about it, ease of even distribution is an area I think extract/essences > beans, but I'd like to hear what your views are :) Chat? –  setek Aug 18 at 6:31
    
@setek yes, I'm in chat –  rumtscho Aug 18 at 6:35
    
If it's a problem for you, alcohol-free (e.g. halal) vanilla extracts are available but you have to look for them (amazon for example). There are also recipes for making your own. I have never used either, but have tasted the results and they're indistinguishable to me (but I'm no expert and vanilla tends to be used in fairly small quantities. –  Chris H Aug 18 at 8:39

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