Vanilla extract is a common ingredient present in almost every sweet treat from cookies to ice cream! But is vanilla extract gluten-free? In this article, learn whether pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla flavor are gluten-free and safe for those with celiac disease or gluten-intolerance.
If you are on a strict gluten-free diet, or are cooking for someone who is, you likely know the importance of checking the ingredient label to ensure all ingredients are truly gluten-free. Even some foods you would never think have gluten, could contain it! Not to mention, there is a lot of disinformation and you could be avoiding some foods unnecessarily, so it's always good to check for yourself and make informed decisions. So let's dig into what vanilla is made from and if it's gluten-free!
What is Vanilla Extract?
Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol to extract the vanilla flavor compounds from the bean. The resulting dark amber liquid is full of vanilla flavor which adds richness, depth, and warmth to baked goods that can't be replicated from any other ingredient.
As simple as the process is, there are rules around what can be labeled as pure extract. The FDA states that in order to be labeled as pure vanilla extract, there must be at least 13.35 ounces of vanilla beans per gallon of alcohol. The alcohol content must be at least 35% alcohol by volume.
Is Pure Vanilla Extract Gluten Free?
Yes, pure vanilla extract is gluten free. It is made from vanilla beans, water, and alcohol.
Vanilla beans are not a grain but rather the fruit of the vanilla orchid plant.
While grain alcohols, such as vodka, rum, or bourbon, could be used to extract the flavor from the vanilla beans, most manufacturers actually use sugarcane ethanol. That said, it doesn't really matter which type of alcohol is used. Distilled alcohols are gluten-free because the process of distillation removes any traces of gluten.
What is Imitation Vanilla Extract?
Imitation vanilla flavoring or artificial vanilla extracts are just that, artificial. They may contain some real vanilla extractives but are mostly made from natural vanilla flavor, artificial flavors, and artificial colorings, often with some added sugars, like corn syrup.
Take a look McCormick Vanilla flavor, the ingredients list is as follows: Water, Alcohol, Natural Flavoring (Including Extractives of Cocoa, and Extractives of Tea), Vanillin and other, Artificial Flavorings, Corn Syrup, & Caramel Color.
What is Vanillin? Is it Gluten-Free?
Vanillin is the main chemical compound of the extract of the vanilla bean. Although, 99% of the vanillin used today does not actually come from vanilla beans but rather is produced synthetically. It can be produced from a petrochemical called guaiacol, wood, or other plant-based sources.
Vanillin is not produced from any grain source and is therefore gluten-free.
Is Imitation Vanilla Gluten-Free?
Imitation vanilla is generally considered to be gluten-free, but you should always check labels for ingredients and an allergen statement to be sure.
Some may choose to avoid this product because it usually contains artificial flavors or caramel color, which they might consider to be unsafe ingredients due to the possible use of barley malt syrup. Although recent literature suggests, caramel color and artificial flavors in the United States are considered gluten-free, unless wheat or barley is listed as a grain source or in the allergen statement.
Is Vanilla Safe for Celiacs?
Yes, both pure vanilla extract and imitation vanilla flavoring is safe for those with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity.
Pure vanilla extract is made from gluten-free ingredients. The same is usually true for imitation vanilla as well. Regardless of the brand of vanilla extract, you should always check the ingredient statement for the most up to date and accurate information.
Gluten-Free Vanilla Extract Brands
- Nielsen-Massey: All Nielsen-Massey vanilla products including vanilla bean pastes are certified gluten-free by GFCO.
- Rodelle: All Rodelle vanilla extracts are gluten-free.
- Heilala: All Heilala Vanilla products are gluten free.
- Watkins: Pure extracts, gourmet extracts and flavorings, and original gourmet baking vanilla are gluten-free.
- McCormick: Labels for all sources of gluten and encourages consumers to read labels for the most up-to-date information regarding their products, including vanilla. McCormick facilities have allergen, sanitation, and hygiene programs in place. Employees follow good manufacturing practices and are trained in the importance of correct labeling and the necessity of performing thorough equipment clean-up and change over procedures to minimize cross-contact of ingredients.
- Store Brands: Always check labels for the most up to date product information and allergen statements, but the information shared here should also apply to store brands of vanilla extract, including Great Value (Walmart), Stonemill (Aldi), and Simple Truth (Kroger).
Homemade Vanilla Extract
While we have determined that most vanilla extract sold on the market is gluten-free and safe for consumption by celiacs or people otherwise sensitive to gluten, the truth is it's an expensive spice! Did you know you can easily make your own vanilla extract?
It's not only more cost effective than buying store-bought vanilla extract, but it's also fun! This is another great option if you really want to be in control of your ingredients!
You can easily find different varieties of vanilla beans for sale to create vanilla extract with distinct and unique flavors. Then all you need is some inexpensive vodka!
- Madagascar Vanilla Beans are what store-bought vanilla extract is made from. Buy these for that pure taste of vanilla you're used to.
- Tahitian Vanilla Beans have a sweet, floral note with undertones of ripe fruit and a deep, rich flavor of cherry-chocolate, licorice and caramel.
- Mexican Vanilla Beans have sweet and woody notes with deep spice notes, similar to a clove or nutmeg.
Vanilla Extract is Gluten-Free
The bottom line is most vanilla extract is gluten-free. That includes pure vanilla and imitation vanilla. Always scan the ingredient label for the most up to date information. Many brands readily state their products are gluten-free and safe for those with celiac disease or gluten intolerance.
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