There's another question about the difference between artificial and real vanilla extract, saying people can tell the difference, but perhaps not in baked goods. The labeling can also be confusing.

So I am curious, I would like to know when to save some money and use imitation;

  • What are use cases for using imitation vanilla without it being apparent to the taster, especially in restaurants and the food industry?
  • What type of use cases will imitation vanilla be apparent?
  • Are there specific types of applications where the quality of real vanilla is utterly necessary?
  • I think this is a NARQ, any close votes or improvement suggestions? – rumtscho Jun 21 '12 at 10:35
  • Maybe it would be a better question with the first three paragraphs removed? – Cascabel Jun 21 '12 at 14:53
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    Note that there is no such thing as artificial vanilla extract.You either have vanilla extract or you have [artificial] vanilla aroma (i.e. synthetic vanillin). Synthetic vanillin is EXACTLY THE SAME as the vanillin in vanilla extract, but the latter contains other compounds that are extracted from the vanilla seeds. – nico Jun 21 '12 at 18:32
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    @nico: That's true, sort of, but imitation vanilla is definitely sometimes labeled "imitation vanilla extract", because it's an imitation of vanilla extract. (They're not saying it's an extract from imitation vanilla.) – Cascabel Jun 21 '12 at 23:59
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    @nico it's Artificial (Vanilla Extract) not (Artificial Vanilla) Extract. – Chris Cudmore Jun 25 '12 at 19:21

Wikipedia has a nice link explaining a study in which real and artificial vanilla are compared:

It explains why and where it is possible to substitute one for another without losing flavor.

The gist of it is that real vanilla has a lot of flavor notes apart from vanillin, but these begin to bake off at around 280-300 degrees. So cookies with artificial vanilla tasted better than with real vanilla whereas cakes (which rarely exceed 210 degrees) ranked better with real vanilla, as did other uncooked or cold items.

The article also deals with the amount of alcohol present in pure vanilla extract and in artificial vanilla, and explains how that affects flavor. Based on that, I would suggest artificial vanilla for baking/cooking at high temperatures and real vanilla otherwise.

  • I'd assume those are Fahrenheit temperatures in the link, not Celsius (though it doesn't specify one way or another). 280 degrees Celsius is a ridiculously hot temperature to bake a cookie at. – Micah Jun 24 '12 at 20:14
  • @Micah: Oh ya, I didn't convert and check..I just assumed celcius, I'll remove it..Thanks – Dharini Chandrasekaran Jun 24 '12 at 22:18

You need to use the real thing in creamy preparations like creme brulee, puddings, ice cream and sauces. Use the artificial stuff for baking. As noted above, there may be a difference between cakes and cookies, but I can't detect it.

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