Vanilla Extract vs Vanilla Syrup (Explained)


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Most baristas will tell you that vanilla syrup is the most popular syrup with customers for coffee, tea, and shakes. Sometimes a customer will ask for vanilla extract instead of syrup which got me thinking about the difference between vanilla extract and syrup.

In this article, I will discuss the differences between vanilla extract and vanilla syrup and also vanilla extract vs vanilla essence and whether you should add them to your coffee. I also discuss whether cooking evaporates the alcohol in vanilla extract.

What’s the difference between vanilla extract and vanilla syrup?

Vanilla extract is an intense and somewhat bitter solution that is made by steeping vanilla beans in ethyl alcohol. Vanilla syrup, on the other hand, is a sweetened syrup made from vanilla extract, water, and sugar and is much lighter than the extract.

vanilla extract vs vanilla syrup
Vanilla beans

Vanilla extract is a common ingredient when baking and making ice creams whereas vanilla syrup is used as a topping in drinks and pastries.

How to Use Vanilla Syrup in Coffee

Adding vanilla syrup to your coffee is quite straightforward as you start with a single pump or a half-tablespoon and increase it to your liking.

Usually, coffee shops have a standard number of pumps for each cup size depending on whether it’s a hot or cold drink. For example, Starbucks uses 2 pumps in a Tall cup and 3 pumps in a Grande for hot drinks.

For most syrup pumps including Starbucks and Torani, one pump of syrup measures about a quarter ounce or a half-tablespoon.

Vanilla syrups taste different depending on the manufacturer and the ingredients. Personally, I have used a few syrups that were either too weak or too sweet for my liking.

That was until I was introduced to the Maison Routin 1883 Vanilla syrup in my previous barista job and I have stayed with this brand ever since. The syrup imparts a rich vanilla aroma and flavor that is second to none without being overly sweet.

If you prefer a Keto-friendly sugar-free vanilla syrup for a deeper flavor in your tea, coffee, or shake, Jordan’s Skinny Vanilla Syrup is your best bet. This syrup is also Kosher.

Maison Routin 1883 vanilla syrup
Maison Routin Vanilla Syrup
Jordan's Skinny sugar-free vanilla syrup
Jordan’s Skinny Vanilla Syrup

Vanilla Extract vs Vanilla Essence (Flavor)

Vanilla essence is a synthetic imitation of vanilla extract that is usually alcohol-free and may contain ingredients such as crude oil products, sweeteners, coloring, and preservatives. It is a cheaper alternative to the pricey vanilla extract.

For vanilla extract, the Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) requires that at least 35 percent of its volume must be ethyl alcohol and at least 1% should be vanillin (vanilla component).

However, vanilla extract and vanilla essence taste similar and it is difficult to tell one from the other based on taste alone. The more affordable vanilla essence is weaker than the pure extract so you may need to add a bit more when using the essence.

Can You Add Vanilla Extract in Coffee?

Yes, adding vanilla extract to your coffee is a healthier alternative to vanilla syrup as the extract has insignificant amounts of sugar if any. The vanilla extract does not sweeten the coffee but adds a rich vanilla flavor.

Start with a drop or half-tablespoon per cup of coffee and avoid adding large amounts of vanilla extract to your coffee as it can create an overwhelming alcohol taste.

Some people prefer adding vanilla extract to the ground coffee before brewing to try and evaporate some of the alcohol but this may end up breaking down some of the vanillins and, actually, not much of the alcohol is evaporated. If alcohol is an issue you may want to go for a non-alcohol vanilla extract.

Remember that the extract is moderately bitter in small quantities so if your aim is to sweeten the coffee without using vanilla syrup then the vanilla extract is not the way to go. Instead, you can use natural sweeteners.

See my post about the best substitutes for vanilla syrup.

For vanilla essence, I would not recommend adding it to coffee and I would rather stick to the syrup or make my own extract at home.

How to Make Vanilla Extract at Home

It is easy to make vanilla extract at home as you just need unflavored vodka, vanilla beans, and a dark bottle with a tight-fitting lid. It takes at least three weeks of steeping the beans in vodka to fully extract the flavors. The longer it takes the stronger the extract.

A ratio of 4-6 vanilla beans for eight ounces of vodka should make a rich extract. Be sure to fully submerge the beans in the vodka.

Grade B vanilla beans are the most preferred for making vanilla extract as they have less moisture than grade A beans. Grade A beans are likely to yield a slightly diluted extract. You can never go wrong with vanilla beans from either Madagascar or Tahiti for your homemade vanilla extract.

Materials: 8 ounces of vodka, 5 vanilla bean pods, a kitchen knife, chopping board, a dark 8oz glass bottle with a screw lid

Instructions:

  • Slice each pod on one side along its length
  • Put the sliced pods in an 8oz bottle. Cut any parts of the pods that are sticking out and drop them in the bottle
  • Add vodka to fill the bottle. The pods should be fully submerged in vodka
  • Cover tightly with the lid and shake the bottle
  • Store the bottle in the pantry away from heat and light. Shake the bottle every other day. The extract is ready to use in 3-4 weeks.

You can make several bottles of vanilla extract to gift to your friends and family. You can also use the extract for your homemade creamer, yogurt, ice cream, or vanilla syrup.

Avoid storing vanilla extract in bottles with cork tops as the extract can evaporate through the loose seal. Dark glass bottles with either a screw-top or a swing-top are the best choice for homemade vanilla extract.

These 8oz Amber Boston Glass Bottles protect the extract from UV light and have screw caps to prevent external odors from leeching into the bottle.

Dark glass 8oz bottles for homemade vanilla extract
Glass bottles for homemade vanilla extract

You can also make alcohol-free vanilla extract at home using food-grade vegetable glycerin instead of vodka.

Does the Alcohol in Vanilla Extract Evaporate at High Temperature?

Alcohol’s boiling is about 173.1°F which is much lower than that of water 212°F whereas vanillin (the main flavor component in vanilla) has a melting point of 177.8181.4°F.

This implies that you are likely to break down vanillin when trying to evaporate the alcohol in vanilla extract. Other than the risk of melting vanillin, experiments have shown that a lot more alcohol is retained even after cooking it.

The results of a study published by the USDA show that when alcohol was added to a boiling hot sauce at 195°F, about 83-85% of the alcohol is retained. When alcohol was added to dry sherry and baked at 375°F for 25 minutes, 41-49 percent of the alcohol was retained.

Therefore, heating vanilla extract to evaporate the alcohol will not only break down some of the desirable vanilla compounds but is also unlikely to evaporate a significant amount of alcohol.

You are better off opting for alcohol-free vanilla extract.

Wrap Up

Now we know that vanilla extract is the purest form of vanilla and that vanilla syrup consists of water, sugar, and vanilla extract. Vanilla essence, on the other hand, is a synthetic imitation of the extract which tastes just like the extract.

You can make vanilla extract at home using vodka or food-grade glycerin for non-alcoholic extract.

Trying to cook vanilla extract to evaporate the alcohol is an exercise in futility as are likely to lose more of the desirable vanilla compounds and still retain much of the alcohol that you are trying to break down.

Alcohol-free vanilla extract is a better choice than trying to evaporate the alcohol in vanilla extract.

Patrick

Patrick is first a coffee lover and then a trained barista. His bucket list includes sky diving and sipping on Java in the Himalayas.

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