with Stephanie Bullen
Chief Flavor Advisor
Vanilla extract. Without even peeking into someone’s pantry, you can almost guarantee that there’s a bottle in there. In fact, chances are you have at least one half-full bottle in your pantry – maybe even more. Here at Savory Spice Shop, we keep five on hand: Madagascar, Double Strength Madagascar, Organic Madagascar, Mexican, and Tahitian. But we don’t stop with vanilla. From Almond to Spearmint, we stock more than 20 different extracts. Our extensive and diverse line of extracts has led to many questions over the years. We decided to answer the most common ones here, in effort to demystify these wonderful flavors and make them more accessible and, hopefully, more frequently used in your kitchen!
Why do Savory’s extracts taste so good?
Our customers often comment that our extracts taste better and are stronger than most other extracts. This is because the best essential oils and other natural ingredients are used to flavor our extracts. Because our extracts are both bake and freeze-proof, you won’t experience a loss in flavor when baking or freezing your foods. Additionally, our extracts are all gluten-free and nearly all of them contain no added sugar.
How should I store extracts at home?
If stored correctly and with a secure cap, most extracts can last for a year or more – with as much flavor as they day they were purchased. Of course, there are exceptions:
- The intensity and flavor of both Vanilla and Peppermint will continue to build over time. So don’t worry if you only pull your Peppermint Extract out of the pantry during the holidays; you can still keep it – tightly sealed, of course.
- Citrus extracts, like our Organic Pure Orange and Natural Key Lime extracts, contain a naturally occurring flavor compound called D’Limonene. This compound is prone to oxidation, which will have a negative impact on flavor. Cool temperatures and dark environments will help to slow the oxidation process, for that reason we recommend keeping your citrus extracts in the refrigerator.
What is the difference between “Organic,” “Pure,” “Natural,” and “Imitation” extracts?
There is currently no legally established naming or labelling criteria for extracts (with the exception of Vanilla), so naming conventions can vary from company to company. We believe in making our naming conventions honest, accurate, and clear. To ensure that our naming conventions are easy to understand and completely forthcoming we use the following criteria in naming our extracts:
- “Organic”: Our Organic Extracts contain only organic alcohol, water, and pure flavoring compounds.
- “Pure”: Our Pure Extracts are derived exclusively from the named product; for example, Pure Anise Extract contains only alcohol, water, and pure anise oil.
- “Natural”: Our Natural Extracts contain naturally occurring flavor compounds but these come not only from the named product but from additional sources. Natural Root Beer Extract, for example, isn’t flavored with root beer but rather uses natural products (including those used in making root beer soda) to replicate the flavor of root beer.
- “Imitation”: While we strive for pure and natural extracts, we received many requests for a Black Walnut flavor. Our Imitation Black Walnut Extract is not derived from naturally occurring flavor compounds because we found it impossible to extract natural flavors that replicate the flavor of black walnut, while maintaining our heat and freeze-proof flavor standards. For this reason, artificial flavoring has been added to this extract.
What is an extract and how is it made?
First, think of a coffee maker. Every time you brew coffee, you’re essentially making an extract. In this case, that means running a solvent (water) through a product (coffee beans) to extract the flavor compounds produces an extract (the brewed coffee). Unlike your roasted coffee beans, however, the flavor compounds and essential oils found in most botanicals are not water soluble, but rather oil soluble. Alcohol is used with water to extract solvents and to keep the essential oils from separating (as oil and water are prone to do). For this same reason, solvents are used to maximize the extraction of flavor compounds that aren’t water-soluble. When looking at many of our extracts you’ll likely see one of the following: propylene glycol or polysorbate.
What are propylene glycol and polysorbate and why are they used in extracts?
As previously mentioned, most essential oil and flavoring compounds are oil soluble and will not disperse in water. Propylene glycol (or PG) is recognized by the FDA as being safe for use in food and is a clear, slightly syrupy solvent that has a bitter and slightly sweet taste but is otherwise flavorless. PG is highly effective in dispersing oil soluble flavor compounds and, because most extracts are added to food in very small amounts, the flavor is rarely perceptible in food. The propylene glycol used in our extracts meets the food grade requirements established by various national and international agencies, including the U.S. Food Chemical Codex (FCC) as well as the European Council Directive for food additives. PG is not used in any of our Organic extracts. Polysorbate is an efficient emulsifier, used in small amounts to help essential oils and flavoring compounds mix evenly into the water and alcohol base, ensuring that the flavor of the extract remains consistent from the beginning of the bottle to the end. Polysorbate is approved by the FDA for use as an emulsifier.
What makes your vanilla extract different from others?
By law, to be labeled a Pure Vanilla Extract, the liquid must be at least 30% alcohol and use only vanilla beans in the flavoring. A single vanilla bean has about 300 unique flavoring components. However, many of these are delicate flavors that occur in trace amounts and must be carefully extracted to maintain their distinctive flavors. For that reason, a high quality vanilla extract begins with the beans. Only premium quality, sun cured vanilla beans are used to create our Pure Vanilla Extracts. To capture maximum flavor from the variety of unique flavor compounds, our extracts are produced using a proprietary cold extraction, slow percolation method. First, the beans are chopped using a specially designed machine that does not produce heat. Then, they are placed into custom stainless steel extractors that operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Damaging heat and pressure are never introduced into this process. This cold extraction process takes nearly a month to complete but ensures that the deep, rich flavor and delicate sweet, floral notes of each flavor compound are captured in our vanilla extracts. Like our other extracts, our Pure Vanilla Extracts maintain their premium flavor whether used in baking, freezing, or other applications.
What are some of the different ways I can use extracts in recipes?
Homemade Mexican Cocoa Ice Cream infused with Natural Peppermint Extract & Natural Cinnamon Extract
- Vanilla Extract, Pure Madagascar 2X: If you’re one of those people who always add a bit more vanilla extract than the recipe calls for, try our double strength vanilla. Made with twice as many vanilla beans as the traditional vanilla extract, using the same amount will intensify the rich vanilla flavors.
- Spiced Iced Cider: This refreshing twist on apple cider features Natural Cherry Extract and fresh oranges. You can make ahead and serve chilled or warm up with some spiced hot cider.
- Chocolate-Hazelnut Syrup: This syrup, featuring Natural Hazelnut Extract, is perfect for sweetening your coffee and plays on the flavors of a favorite chocolaty sweet spread. Try using this syrup as a topping for ice cream or in steamed milk for a fun twist on a classic cocoa.
- Chai Cookies: The glaze for these cookies features Imitation Black Walnut Extract for a slightly nutty finish to these sweetly spiced treats.
- Homemade Mexican Cocoa Ice Cream: The combination of Natural Peppermint Extract and Natural Cinnamon Extract in this frozen chocolate treat makes it a refreshing dessert during the summer or a festive one for the holidays.
- Pyramid Peak Raspberry BBQ Sauce and Jalapeno Jelly 3 Ways: Not just for sweet treats, Natural Raspberry Extract is used in these recipes to add a burst of fruity flavor to savory sauces.
- Homemade Vanilla Extract: For a fun DIY project, try making your own extract using various alcohol bases (vodka, bourbon, rum) and different types of vanilla beans (Tahitian, Madagascar, Mexican). It's an easy infusion of alcohol and vanilla beans; it just takes a little planning because the beans need to infuse for at least a month before the extract is ready to use.
For more recipes featuring our extracts, visit our Extracts product page and browse through the extract flavors. For any extract that has a published recipe, there will be a Recipes tab on that extract's product page.