Where does vanilla flavouring come from?

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THE humble vanilla flavouring gets called bland and boring a lot but can actually be a very rich addition to cooking.

Vanilla pods can be more expensive but there are other ways to source this delicious flavour to add to your food.

Where does vanilla flavouring come from?

There is a brown, sticky goo called castoreum which smells a lot like vanilla and used to be used in food or perfumes.

However, castoreum is almost never used in food today except in special (and expensive) circumstances.

Instead, vanilla flavouring or extract comes from the bean pod which you have undoubtedly seen in stores and on Bake Off.

Most vanilla beans come from vanilla orchid plants grown in Madagascar, Mexico and Tahiti.

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Vanilla is most commonly sourced from vanilla beansCredit: Corbis

The overwhelming majority of food and drink products use artificial flavourings to get that sweet vanilla taste.

Food chemists can “milk” castoreum from anaesthetised beavers and while it might not be the most desirable source of flavouring, it is regarded as “generally safe for consumption” by the US Food and Drug Administration.

So-called ‘beaver goo’ was used to flavour artisanal ice cream, baked goods, chewing gum and candy, decades ago.

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When did vanilla flavouring go viral on TikTok?

TikTok user @Sloowmoee sent the internet wild back in April 2022 after he started a viral trend.

In a 15-second video posted to his 6.1million followers, the TikTok creator asked people to film their reactions before and after googling “where does vanilla flavouring come from?”

He then takes a sip of vanilla latte before googling the question, looking horrified and screeching: “No more vanilla!”

Sloowmoee’s video has racked up millions of views.

In response to his post, other TikTok users uploaded videos of their reactions to finding out the apparent origin of the flavouring.

This misinformation spread quickly, although some users also stitched the video to stop the viral trend spreading false information.

Have I eaten beaver goo?

While castoreum can be used as an ingredient in food and drinks products, it’s extremely rare due to the cost and time associated with the milking of it.

It’s safe to assume that every ice cream or vanilla latte you’ve consumed contains ingredients that have been nowhere near the bum of a beaver.

The few products that do contain castoreum are generally produced by luxury brands – nothing you can get from your local supermarket.

Eau De Musc (“Water of Musk”), for instance, was a limited-edition beaver castoreum whiskey released in 2018 by US booze-maker Tamworth Distilling.

It was housed in a small, 200ml vintage-style perfume bottle and sold for an eye-watering $65 (£50) a pop.

Chanel Antaeus is a fragrance from – you guessed it – Chanel that contains castoreum. That’ll set you back a measly $114 / £78 a bottle.

Is vanilla flavouring the same as vanilla essence?

Although both give you that familiar vanilla taste, vanilla essence is different to vanilla flavouring.

To make vanilla flavouring, a mixture of corn syrup, synthetic vanillin and lignin is made.

Generally speaking, imitation vanilla has a weaker taste so is best to use in baked goods.

The extract can be made by soaking vanilla beans in a mixture of water and ethyl alcohol – vodka or bourbon will do the trick at home.

You can use these to make homemade vanilla ice cream or add the flavour to other food.

Split vanilla beans are placed in the alcohol and cold or hot extraction methods are used.

Finally, you can also buy vanilla essence, which once again is a different strength but still has that classic vanilla flavour.

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This is typically made using water, ethanol, propylene glycol, emulsifiers, and chemically produced flavours and colours.

Once again you can use this in different foods to add that sweet but not overwhelming flavour.

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