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I recently purchased a professional-style milkshake mixer, and some recipes I've researched say that adding ice cream is a must for making shakes, along with adding a few drops of milk. But some of them also say to add vanilla extract as well, usually a drop or two.

What's the purpose of adding more vanilla to the shake if the ice cream is already vanilla? Wouldn't it just make sense to skip that and add any other flavour, or keep the ice cream and milk flavour intact?

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  • 3
    Try it. -- Fred Picker Sep 9 '21 at 13:56
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    You ever seen a kid add sugar to a sugar-laden cereal?
    – MonkeyZeus
    Sep 9 '21 at 16:16
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    @AzorAhai-him- Yes.
    – MonkeyZeus
    Sep 9 '21 at 19:01
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    @AzorAhai-him- Except once when it was accidentally the salt bowl instead of the sugar bowl....apparently it was quite traumatic because my mom still tells the story. Sep 9 '21 at 21:08
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    @user3067860 a good friend of mine had a grandmother who was Italian and did not speak any English. She was helping with dinner by making breadsticks, but ran out of flour. She finished the recipe with what she thought was more flour, but it turned out to be powdered sugar instead. Sep 10 '21 at 2:09
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Fundamentally the answer is just 'it is added for flavour; you can skip it if you want'. A few suggestions as to why it might be a good decision to add it:

  • Vanilla flavour can be stronger or weaker, and it might be that the recipe writer prefers their milkshake to have a stronger vanilla flavour than the ice cream they buy.
  • Depending on how much milk is being added, this will dilute the ice cream flavour a little, so more vanilla could be added to compensate.
  • The flavour profile of the ice cream changes as it melts, because some flavours are subdued in a very cold product (in particular, the sweetness is reduced a little, which is why melted ice-cream or ice lollies are often surprisingly sweet; more sugar is needed so that the frozen product still tastes sweet). It might be that when the ice cream is no longer solid the balance is 'off', so more vanilla is needed.
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    I think the 2nd point is most significant. Milkshake recipes seem to vary from flavoured milk, flavoured and slightly thickened, to ice cream that's been slightly melted in a blender. Close to the former case you wouldn't taste the vanilla from the little ice cream added - and that can be a good thing if making other flavours
    – Chris H
    Sep 10 '21 at 12:28
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If the ice cream is vanilla already, I don't see any reason to add more vanilla. But sometimes vanilla can be a type of flavor enhancer for other flavors of ice cream, like chocolate. So they may be suggesting you add a bit of vanilla to enhance some other non-vanilla flavors. But that's all just personal preference for what you think tastes good, so go with what you like.

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Vanilla sometimes means plain flavoured

In Ireland and England the vanilla ice cream in the supermarket is usually unflavoured rather than vanilla.

enter image description here**

This stuff is pure white and tastes of milk and sugar. If this is the vanilla you are using, your milkshake will also be plain flavour unless you add some extract.

You don't need extract if you have a real vanilla ice cream. This stuff is off yellow and sometimes has tiny black vanilla seeds in it. For a vanilla milkshake, this stuff is much nicer and more flavourful than the plain ice-cream.

enter image description here

Over here it is marketed as French Vanilla or Madagascan Vanilla. For a vanilla milkshake I'd recommend not adding extract, as you might get an artificial chemical taste.

Plain ice-cream is good for milkshakes if you want to add flavour separately. For example a raspberry milkshake made of fresh raspberries and plain ice cream

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    "usually unflavoured" is simply wrong
    – SiHa
    Sep 10 '21 at 9:46
  • @ChrisH I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on this one.
    – Daron
    Sep 10 '21 at 20:43
  • doesn't the "unvflavored" vanilla contain at the very least vanillin? sounds like a dishonest product
    – Agos
    Sep 16 '21 at 8:04
  • In fact the yellowish color of comercially sold vanilla ice cream usually is a result of added carotenes, while the little black spots are not seeds from the vanilla mark, but pods that have been ground after the mark was extracted. Flavouring industrial ice cream with pure, real vanilla would be too expensive for the usual price tag. Home made vanilla ice cream will usually look plain white as well (or also yellowish when using yolk as an emulsifier) and have very little spots in it but reward you with a much more differentiated taste than that of artificial vanillin used in the industry.
    – J. Mueller
    Sep 25 '21 at 16:40

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