Is vanilla extract safe to eat? (3+ risks)
In this article, we will discuss whether the vanilla extract is safe to eat, what are the risks of consuming vanilla extract, the composition of vanilla extract and how much vanilla extract can you consume safely.
Vanilla extract is obtained from the matured beans of plants from the family Orchidaceae and is a flavouring used in the ice cream and bakery industry.
Is vanilla extract safe to eat?
Yes, vanilla extract is safe to eat, unless you are allergic to one of the compounds present in the extract (2) or if you ingest vanilla extract in excessive amounts (1, 6).
Commercial vanilla extracts have a high concentration of alcohol that varies between 35 and 55 % in volume and therefore should not be overconsumed (5), but rather mixed with other ingredients or added to foods (2).
However, the vanilla extract used in moderation is considered safe and can have positive effects on health, as it has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and is reported to help improve insulin sensitivity in animal studies (1).
What are the risks of consuming vanilla extract?
The risks of consuming vanilla extract are mainly four: allergy, adulteration, alcohol ingestion and overconsumption.
Allergy: Allergic reactions can occur due to the consumption of vanilla extract in the case of allergies to one of the compounds in the extract, especially vanillin (2).
Adulteration: The addition of tonka bean extract for the adulteration of vanilla extracts was reported in studies. Tonka bean extract contains coumarin in high concentrations and can be harmful to health when this compound is converted to dicoumarol (3).
Dicoumarol has anticoagulant properties and can inhibit the activity of vitamin K. As a consequence, the risk of bleeding increases.
Alcohol ingestion: The ingestion of alcohol in excessive amounts is known to have negative effects on health, including alcohol dependence, dementia, cirrhosis and breast cancer (7).
The concentration of alcohol in the vanilla extract varies and can be up to 50 % (4). Drinking a volume of 100 mL of vanilla extract would correspond to approximately 4 doses of a regular alcoholic drink.
Excessive intake: An excessive intake of vanilla extract may have negative effects on health due to the toxic effect of vanillin on the liver, one of the main compounds in the vanilla extract (6).
What is the composition of vanilla extract?
Vanilla extract is composed of alcohol and volatile compounds, which characterise the vanilla aroma. These compounds, in addition to amino acids, tannins and resins give the extract the colour and the chemical properties to the extract (1).
The main compound is vanillin which is present in 1 to 2 % of the dry vanilla beans, followed by vanillic acid, p-hydroxybenzoic acid, p-hydroxybenzaldehyde, p-hydroxy benzyl alcohol, anise alcohol and anyllil alcohol (1).
How much vanilla extract is safe to use?
The amount of approximately 100 millilitres of vanilla extract for every kilogram of food is considered safe to use. This means, that in a pudding weighing 1 kg (about 900 millilitres of milk and 100 g of sugar), it is safe to use 100 mg of vanilla extract.
The use is limited by vanillin, which should not be consumed in excess. The safe use of vanillin is 25 mg for each kilogram of prepared food.
Vanillin is present in about 0.25 % in the vanilla extract, which means, that in a glass of 100 mL vanilla extract, there is approximately 25 mg of vanillin (4, 6).
Is expired vanilla extract safe to eat?
Yes, expired vanilla extract is safe to eat, unless the vanilla extract has an altered consistency or unpleasant aroma.
Although vanilla is considered stable for several months or years when kept unopened, vanilla extract can react and change in the composition, when not properly stored.
Due to the high concentration of alcohol in the vanilla extract, microbial spoilage is not probable.
On the other hand, under certain conditions, such as high temperature and light incidence, the volatiles and alcohols in the vanilla extract may react, leading to the generation of off-odours (8).
In this article, we discussed what are the risks of eating vanilla extract, how much vanilla extract can you consume safely and if expired vanilla extract is safe to eat.
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