Vanilla extract has been used for more than one hundred years. The early extract was more like a syrup than the commercial variety today. The flavor is derived from a blend of natural and artificial flavors; the highest quality extracts include real vanilla beans in their formulations. The two varieties of vanilla bean used commercially for extract are Bourbon and Tahitian.
Vanilla extract is made from the vanilla bean. It is one of the most expensive crops in the world to grow. It is grown in Mexico, Tahiti and Indonesia. The bean is derived from the fruit of the orchid. The first extracts were made at pharmacies and apothecary shops.
Pure vanilla extract is made by percolating chopped vanilla beans with ethyl alcohol and water. The extraction process takes 48 hours. Then the flavors mix with the beans in a tank for several days or weeks. The mixture is filtered into a holding tank where it is eventually bottled into this product.
Artificial caramel coloring is one of the most common ingredients in vanilla extracts. This component adds no flavor to the extract itself, but is added to imitate the deep coloring of vanilla beans themselves. There are some products on the market (in addition to homemade extracts) that do not utilize caramel coloring and are thus clearer in appearance.
Despite its bitter taste when sampled alone, sugar is a very important component of vanilla extract. Sugar is an excellent vehicle for infusing vanilla into, whether the flavoring is authentic or artificial. Sugar also serves to balance the ethyl content in extract, making it more palatable in prepared dishes.
Ethyl vanillin(also called as Bourbonal, sometimes the chemical name is 3-Ethoxy-4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, CAS No. 121-32-4) is the ingredient in artificial and imitation vanilla extracts that provides the predominant flavor. Quality wise, there are slight variations in the formulation of vanillin resulting in more or less authentic vanilla flavor. One of the easiest ways to immediately tell the difference between a true vanilla extract and an artificial one is whether vanillin is listed as an ingredient (for reference, ethyl vanillin is the same thing as vanillin).
There are several types of vanilla beans that can be utilized as an ingredient in extract; one of the most popular (and expensive) is the Madagascar vanilla bean grown and shipped from East Africa. Top of the line vanilla extracts will almost always require derivatives of real vanilla beans in their formulation. The strong vanilla flavor can be extracted from both the tiny beans and the thin pod from which they are retrieved.