Vanilla is that great smelling liquid in the little brown bottle. By itself it doesn't taste nearly as good as it smells. But ad a few drops to your cookies, cakes, ice creams and chocolates and the magical flavor of vanilla is revealed!

Applications of vanilla

Most vanilla used in the food industry is in dairy products, followed by beverages, baked goods and confections. However, vanilla is often used as a background note or flavor enhancer to round out the flavor profiles of many food products. The type of vanilla used depends on the product, the ingredients in the base formulation, and the desired flavor profile.

Flavor Enhancer

  • Chocolate: The marriage of vanilla and chocolate has been a successful one dating back to the 1500s when Montezuma welcomed Cortes to Mexico with a vanilla-cocoa beverage. Vanilla softens or rounds out harsh, bitter notes in most chocolate applications such as ice creams, cakes and syrups. In confections such as chocolate bars, powdered vanillin is used most often.
  • Fruits/sweet flavors: Vanilla is often used to enhance fruit flavors in many dairy and beverage applications. It rounds out many fruit flavors and takes off some of the tart edges. It is generally used as a background note in a variety of sweet and fruit flavors to round out the flavor profile.
  • Sweetness: "Vanilla enhances the sweetness perception of foods, especially in bakery products," explains Jean Kuster, product manager-dairy, Beck Flavors, St. Louis. "If you had a product with and without vanilla, most people would perceive the one with added vanilla as sweeter. If you are designing reduced calorie products and are cutting back on sugar in order to achieve that goal, you might be able to add a little bit more vanilla to enhance the sweetness perception."

Dairy Products Vanilla is the most popular flavoring for ice cream. The type, or "category," of vanilla used determines how ice cream is labeled:

  • Category 1: Natural vanilla extract. Two-fold vanilla is commonly used. Ice cream products must be labeled as "vanilla ice cream."
  • Category 2: Vanilla-vanillin extract. This is considered natural and artificial (N&A), where the natural component is the characterizing flavor. Ice cream products must be labeled as "vanilla flavored ice cream."
  • Category 3: Natural and artificial vanilla flavors or artificial vanilla flavors, where the artificial component predominates. Ice cream products must be labeled "artificially flavored vanilla ice cream."

Bakery Products
Pure vanilla extract is generally not used for baking because the aromatic components of extracts begin to volatilize at about 280° to 300°F, a temperature that is readily attained in cookie baking. Cakes rarely exceed 210°F internally, so an extract or blend of extracts may be used successfully, but a stronger extract such as a two-fold may be more effective. Vanilla-vanillin extracts and artificial flavors are generally recommended for baking applications. Natural and/or artificial flavors give food product designers the added benefit of blending vanilla with various flavor notes such as buttery, nutty and brown sugar.

Beverages
Vanilla is an important flavor component in colas, in addition to the complex of spice and citrus notes. A recent publication listed vanilla as well as 25 other flavor notes responsible for a cola flavor. Cream sodas, root beer, and some fruit beverages also may contain vanilla.

Vanillin or vanilla flavors are used in many alcoholic beverages, such as whiskeys, cordials and cocktails, to round out and smooth the harsh edges of the alcohol. In whiskey products, vanillin is one of the chemicals extracted from the oak barrels in which the products age. Generally, vanillin and flavorings, rather than vanilla extract, are used in alcohol-containing beverages because of the regulations governing this industry.

Savory Applications
Vanilla and sweet goods go hand in hand, but have you ever thought of vanilla vinaigrette, vanilla glaze over pork, or vanilla stir-fry? Product developers who are looking for unique flavor profiles in savory applications may try using vanilla to boost or blend flavors.

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