Is vanilla extract gluten free? If you’re on a strict gluten free diet, you’ll want to know if this common baking ingredient is safe for you to eat.
Learn what ingredients are in vanilla extract, the three different types, brands and how to use it. By the end of this post, you’ll want to bake something sweet!
What is vanilla extract?
It’s an amber-colored solution that’s made several different ways, depending on the type of vanilla extract. Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla bean pods in alcohol; whereas imitation vanilla extract uses artificial flavoring to create the classic vanilla taste.
Ingredients in vanilla extract
The three most common ingredients in vanilla extract are vanilla beans, alcohol and water. Some brands may also add in a bit of sugar to stabilize the solution. All of these ingredients are naturally gluten free, so they are safe for anyone with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance.
Imitation vanilla extract contains vanillin, which is a vanilla flavoring that is naturally gluten free, so it’s also safe for anyone on a gluten free diet.
Lower quality vanilla extracts may also contain additives like propylene glycol to stabilize and preserve the product.
The difference between imitation and pure vanilla extract
At the grocery store, you may notice there are several types of vanilla extracts in the baking section. Here’s a breakdown of some of them:
- Pure vanilla extract is made by soaking vanilla beans or pods in alcohol. This extracts (hence the name) the vanilla flavours from the beans into the alcohol. The solution can then be diluted with water, packaged and sold.
- For a vanilla extract to be considered pure, it must contain 35% alcohol by volume and use 100g of vanilla beans per liter. Fun fact, right?!
- Imitation or artificial vanilla extract is made with the flavoring vanillin, which actually comes from vanilla beans. Since vanillin is used, and not whole beans, it’s much more affordable to produce. Which makes it cheaper to buy!
- Non-alcoholic vanilla extract avoids the use of alcohol. Glycerin is used instead. Glycerin is still technically an alcohol, but it’s a sugar alcohol - not the ethanol used in other vanilla extracts.
Vanilla beans are typically grown in Madagascar, Mexico, Tahiti, Indonesia, and Uganda and the flavours of each can change slightly. Depending on the type of bean, plus preparation - there are endless possibilities if vanilla extracts out there!
Each variety - pure, imitation or non-alcoholic - can be substituted for one other easily in most recipes.
Is vanilla extract safe on a gluten free diet?
Vanilla extract is naturally gluten free and safe for anyone on a strict gluten free diet.
Pure vanilla extract, imitation vanilla extract and non-alcoholic vanilla extract all use ingredients that are safe for anyone with celiac disease, non-celiac gluten sensitivity or gluten intolerance.
As always, certain brands may add additional colors or flavorings so always check the product label for gluten ingredients or warnings.
Ready to bake something delicious? Here are a few brands of vanilla extract for you to choose from:
- Nielson-Massey: a high-end brand of pure vanilla extract for bakers that don’t mess around! It’s pricey, but you get what you pay for in terms of quality.
- Penzey’s: uses the highest quality Madagascar “Bourbon Islands” vanilla beans for their pure vanilla extract.
- King Arthur Baking: they cold-press the vanilla beans for their pure vanilla extract. This leads to a richer taste. Fancy!
- McCormick: not highest quality, but much more affordable for everyday baking. This brand offers both pure and artificial vanilla extract.
- Simply Organic: this is my favourite brand. They offer pure vanilla extract in both an alcohol and alcohol-free version. Simply Organic uses Madagascar vanilla.
- Rodelle: this vanilla extract Bourbon vanilla beans and actually states the product is gluten free. (Don’t worry, you’re still safe to use other brands!)
- The Watkins Company: offers both pure and artificial vanilla extracts.
- Sonoma Syrup Co.: this brand makes their vanilla extract from both Tahitian and Madagascar vanilla beans.
- Clubhouse: pure and artificial vanilla extracts are available; however, the quality of these products isn’t ranked the highest. Good for the wallet, though, if you’re baking a ton!
- Great Value: Wal-Mart’s brand of vanilla extract. Pure and artificial forms are available, which also contain propylene glycol to stabilize the solution.
How to use vanilla extract
Ah, vanilla extract. It’s one of the ingredients that is essential in a baker’s pantry.
In a recipe, vanilla extract is typically added into the wet ingredients and mixed to combine. A little goes a long way, so only 1-2 teaspoons is perfect for flavoring cookies, muffins, or cakes.
Although the bottle of vanilla extract may smell super strong and potent (especially if it contains alcohol), you won’t notice it in the finished recipe. All you’ll detect is a slight vanilla taste and smell in your baked goods.
Here are a few of my favorite recipes use that vanilla extract:
- Gluten Free Butter Tarts
- Gluten Free Zucchini Muffins
- Gluten Free Cookie Brownies
- Gluten Free Molasses Cookies
- Gluten Free Graham Crackers
- Gluten Free Pop Tarts
- Gluten Free Dairy Free Sugar Cookies
- Gluten Free Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins
Vanilla extract FAQs
- Is vanilla extract vegan? Yes, vanilla extract is vegan! Whether you purchase pure or artificial vanilla extract, they are both safe for a vegan diet.
- Is vanilla extract dairy free? Yep, vanilla extract is dairy free! It does not contain any milk products and is safe for anyone on a dairy free diet.
- Is vanilla extract sugar free? No, not all vanilla extracts are sugar free. Some manufacturers add sugar to help stabilize the vanilla compounds so the solution looks clear. Check the product label first if you are on a sugar free diet.
- Is vanilla extract healthy? Compounds in vanilla beans and vanilla extract may have antioxidant properties, which helps with inflammation and cell damage. If you’re using it in recipes, however, such a small amount is used that it may have minimal effect. Plus, if those recipes contain sugar, it may negate all of vanilla’s positive benefits.
Other baking ingredients
- Is almond extract gluten free? Yes, almond extract is safe for anyone on a gluten free diet. Much like vanilla extract, almond extract typically only contains alcohol, water and almond oil.
- Is butter gluten free? It sure is! Check out the linked post for additional information about butter (and some brand suggestions if you need a dairy free alternative).
- Is baking powder gluten free? Normally, baking powder is gluten free, but always be sure to check the product label. Baking powder contains sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), an acid (like cream of tartar or monocalcium phosphate) and a starch. Often, cornstarch is used, but there’s always a chance that wheat starch can be present in baking powder. Check the ingredient label to make sure your baking powder is gluten free.
- Is maple syrup gluten free? Yes, pure maple syrup is a natural sweetener that is gluten free! Be sure to check out the linked post to learn about the different types of maple syrup, why it’s different from table syrup and some delicious recipes to prepare with it!