When I use vanilla in my home, I no longer use vanilla extract. Instead, I use ground vanilla beans. There are several reasons why I do this. The first reason, and what led me to seek out another option to begin with, is food-allergy based. The second reason, which I only discovered after trying ground vanilla beans, is their superior smell and taste.
Most vanilla extracts are made by macerating and percolating vanilla beans in a solution of alcohol and water. While I don’t have any problem with alcohol in the general sense, the alcohol used is typically a grain alcohol. The other options would be potato-derived vodka, agave-derived tequila, or grape-derived wine. These non-grain options would either be much more expensive (in the case of vodka or tequila) or has too much flavor of its own (in the case of wine) to use to make and sell a mass-produced extract. Because we have grain allergies in my family, we try to avoid all grain sources that we can, even if they’re very small and minute. I figure that even in small doses, they’re likely to stress our bodies; even it’s a small enough amount that it doesn’t elicit an allergic response.
The other option available is an alcohol-free vanilla extract. This type of vanilla extract generally contains vegetable glycerin in place of the alcohol. The problem here is that most vegetable glycerin is soy derived. Soy is very cheap because it’s heavily subsidized by the government; as a result, it makes it into almost everything. Most soy is genetically modified, so I would strive to avoid it for that reason alone. However, we also try to avoid unfermented soy because of various reactions, so I choose not to go this route either.
Instead, we choose to use pure, ground vanilla beans. Ground vanilla beans are exactly what they say: vanilla beans that are dried and then ground into a fine powder. Not only do they taste and smell AMAZING, but they also contain only vanilla beans with nothing added or removed.
This means that when you eat ground vanilla beans, your body will benefit from vanilla’s antioxidants, its cognitive-enhancing properties, its aphrodisiac qualities, as well as its abilities to reduce stress and hunger pangs.
As a note, make sure that you’re buying pure, ground vanilla beans. Some items labeled as “vanilla powder” have anti-caking agents and sugar added to them.