Vanilla Extract Vs. Vanilla Essence: 4 Differences To Understand
Image Credit: Unsplash

The enticing aroma and rich flavour of vanilla are cherished in kitchens around the world, elevating countless sweet and savoury dishes. However, when it comes to vanilla flavouring, confusion often arises between two popular options: vanilla extract and vanilla essence.

While both impart the beloved essence of vanilla, they are not interchangeable, and their differences lie in their composition and usage. Whether you're a baking enthusiast or a cooking connoisseur, understanding the nuances between these two vanilla flavourings will empower you to infuse your dishes with the delightful essence of this beloved spice more effectively than ever.

Vanilla extract is a natural flavouring derived from vanilla beans. It is made by soaking vanilla beans in alcohol, typically vodka, to extract the rich and complex flavours and aromas of the beans. The alcohol acts as a solvent, extracting the vanillin and other compounds from the beans, resulting in a concentrated liquid with a strong and authentic vanilla taste.

On the other hand, vanilla essence is an artificial or synthetic flavouring that replicates the taste and aroma of vanilla. It is typically made using chemicals and vanillin, a compound found in vanilla beans. While vanilla essence can have a similar flavour to vanilla extract, it is generally considered to be less potent and lacks the complexity and depth of flavour that natural vanilla extract provides.

What Sets These Two Products Apart?

Composition and Production:

Vanilla extract is a natural flavouring derived directly from vanilla beans, specifically the pods or beans of the Vanilla planifolia plant. The extraction process involves soaking the vanilla beans in alcohol, typically vodka, for an extended period. The alcohol acts as a solvent, drawing out the flavourful compounds, including vanillin, which is the primary flavour compound found in vanilla beans.

As the beans steep in alcohol, the resulting liquid becomes infused with the complex and robust flavours of vanilla. The extract is then filtered to remove any solids, leaving behind a concentrated liquid bursting with the genuine taste and aroma of vanilla.

Vanilla essence, on the other hand, is an artificial or synthetic flavouring that mimics the taste and aroma of vanilla. It is typically produced using chemicals and vanillin, which can be derived from various sources, including lignin (a component of wood) or guaiacol (an organic compound).

While vanillin is the main flavour compound found naturally in vanilla beans, in vanilla essence, it is often produced through synthetic means to replicate the vanilla flavour. The production of vanilla essence allows for a more cost-effective approach to obtaining vanilla-like flavouring without the use of actual vanilla beans.

Flavour Profile:

The natural extraction process of vanilla beans results in a rich, complex, and authentic flavour profile. Vanilla extract boasts deep, warm, and full-bodied notes with subtle floral and fruity undertones. Its true vanilla flavour enhances various sweet and savoury dishes, making it a popular choice in baking, desserts, beverages, and even savoury sauces.

While vanilla essence aims to imitate the taste of natural vanilla extract, its flavour profile is generally simpler and less nuanced. It tends to have a somewhat one-dimensional vanilla taste, with less depth and complexity compared to vanilla extract. As a result, when using vanilla essence, the final flavour may lack the richness and authenticity that come with using pure vanilla extract.


Due to its natural extraction process and concentration of vanilla compounds, vanilla extract is more potent and flavourful than vanilla essence. A small amount of vanilla extract can go a long way towards infusing dishes with its distinct vanilla taste. Vanilla essence is typically less potent than vanilla extract. To achieve a similar level of flavour intensity, larger quantities of vanilla essence may be required in recipes, which can affect the overall taste and potentially result in a more artificial aftertaste.

Usage and Substitution:

Vanilla extract is highly versatile and is commonly used in a wide range of culinary applications. It is an excellent choice for baking cookies, cakes, pies, and pastries, as well as for flavouring ice creams, custards, and puddings. Additionally, it can add a delightful twist to savoury dishes like marinades, sauces, and dressings.

Vanilla essence is often used as a more affordable alternative to vanilla extract, especially in large-scale commercial food production. While it can be substituted for vanilla extract in recipes, keep in mind that its flavour profile is simpler and may not provide the same depth of taste as natural vanilla extract. To achieve a more authentic vanilla flavour, it may be necessary to use a higher quantity of vanilla essence.

When choosing between vanilla extract and vanilla essence, consider your desired flavour profile and the level of authenticity you wish to achieve in your dishes. Regardless of your preference, both vanilla extract and vanilla essence add a delightful touch of vanilla's alluring essence to a wide range of culinary delights.